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Engineering crops for improved freezing tolerance and better yields

  • Full or part time

    Dr J Hartwell
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 17, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

It is predicted we will need to increase crop yields by 50 - 70 % by 2050 to feed the world. In many parts of the planet, yields are severely limited by freezing temperatures that kill or damage crops. Low temperatures also limit the areas of land that can be considered for cultivation. Some plants can acclimatise to better tolerate freezing conditions if the temperature drops gradually through the transition from autumn to winter. Experiencing cool temperatures prior to freezing allows plants to make cellular and biochemical changes that help them cope better when winter does arrive. However, climate change has brought irregular weather patterns and this period of preparation for plants is now often absent before frosts occur, leaving crops without protection. This means we need crops that are always ready for freezing conditions, whenever they might occur. Research into how plants combat freezing damage and how we can exploit these mechanisms in our crops of the future is, therefore, very important. Previous significant discoveries have led to improved plant freezing tolerance but at the expense of growth and yield so do not address this challenge. The novel freezing tolerance gene we have identified is unique in this regard. It has already been shown to promote (not retard) growth. This project will involve solving a puzzle to find which one of several activities already associated with this gene is/are used in the fight against freezing temperatures. It will then figure out how to optimise this protective property whilst retaining the positive effects on growth. If we can understand how this gene protects plants from freezing damage whilst boosting their growth, we have the potential for a solution to a global problem. The project involves a very wide range of complementary experimental approaches that have applications across and well beyond plant biology.

Applications should be made by emailing with a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees), and a covering letter – clearly stating your first choice project, and optionally 2nd and 3rd ranked projects, as well as including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project(s) and at the selected University. Applications not meeting these criteria will be rejected.
In addition to the CV and covering letter, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (Word document) to . A blank copy of this form can be found at:
Informal enquiries may be made to

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year BBSRC studentship under the Newcastle-Liverpool-Durham DTP. The successful applicant will receive research costs, tuition fees and stipend (£15,009 for 2019-20). The PhD will start in October 2020. Applicants should have, or be expecting to receive, a 2.1 Hons degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. EU candidates must have been resident in the UK for 3 years in order to receive full support. Please note, there are 2 stages to the application process.


(2019). 2019. MUR1-mediated cell-wall fucosylation is required for freezing tolerance in Arabidopsis thaliana. New Phytologist (DOI: 10.1111/nph.16209).

2018. Rapid and Dynamic Alternative Splicing Impacts the Arabidopsis Cold Response Transcriptome. The Plant Cell 30: 1424-1444.

(2015) Identification of MEDIATOR16 as the Arabidopsis COBRA suppressor MONGOOSE1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 112: 16048-53.

(2014) The Arabidopsis Mediator complex subunits MED16, MED14 and MED2 regulate Mediator and RNA polymerase II recruitment to CBF-responsive cold-regulated genes. Plant Cell 26: 465-484.

(2011). OsSFR6 is a functional rice orthologue of SENSITIVE TO FREEZING-6 and can act as a regulator of COR gene expression, osmotic stress and freezing tolerance in Arabidopsis. New Phytologist 191, 984-005

(2019) Silencing PHOSPHOENOLPYRUVATE CARBOXYLASE1 in the Obligate Crassulacean Acid Metabolism Species Kalanchoë laxiflora causes Reversion to C3-like Metabolism and Amplifies Rhythmicity in a Subset of Core Circadian Clock Genes. bioRxiv Plant Biology 684050

(2019) C4 and crassulacean acid metabolism within a single leaf: deciphering key components behind a rare photosynthetic adaptation. New Phytol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/nph.16265

(2017) The Kalanchoë genome provides insights in convergent evolution and building blocks of crassulacean acid metabolism. Nature Communications. 8, Art. No. 1899. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01491-7

(2017) Phosphorylation of Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase Is Essential for Maximal and Sustained Dark CO2 Fixation and Core Circadian Clock Operation in the Obligate Crassulacean Acid Metabolism Species Kalanchoë fedtschenkoi. The Plant Cell 29, 2519-2536

(2015) Transgenic Perturbation of the Decarboxylation Phase of Crassulacean Acid Metabolism Alters Physiology and Metabolism But Has Only a Small Effect on Growth. Plant Physiol. 167, 44 – 59

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