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Fundamental requirements for branching in plants

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Awaiting Funding Decision/Possible External Funding
    Awaiting Funding Decision/Possible External Funding

Project Description

Branching is a key determinant of crop yields because it affects the positioning of organs around stems, and hence light interception and productivity. Identifying the basic mechanisms underlying branching is therefore of considerable relevance to agriculture. Our understanding of mechanisms for branching is limited to flowering plants that have complex shoot development and branching patterns1. This means that it is not possible to block branching without perturbing many other aspects of plant development. Furthermore, flowering plants have complex genome organisations with many genes affecting the same process2.

The only living plants that do not branch are bryophytes such as mosses. Mosses have low genetic complexity, meaning that few genes regulate each developmental process3. My lab has disrupted the function of a single gene in a moss and identified mutants that can branch4. The decision to branch or not is binary. This brings exciting potential to identify the fundamental requirements for branching.

My lab has recently demonstrated that this approach of stripping out developmental and genetic complexity can generate fundamental new insights into plant development in general5. Findings from this project in moss are therefore likely to be transferable to flowering plants including crops. To understand how the switch from one stem to branching can occur, this proposal aims to determine how changes in PIN gene activity can lead to branching during moss development4,6.

Your project will involve four experimental approaches:
1. Characterisation of moss development in wild-type and mutant plants
2. PIN gene expression analyses
3. PIN protein localisation analyses
4. Auxin distribution analyses in wild-type and mutant plants.

The project will provide training at the cutting edge of the plant evolution and development fields. The techniques that you learn will be broadly applicable in academic biology and biotech sectors. The skills that you learn will be widely transferable to other areas such as science policy and publishing.

Funding Notes

Please apply via the University of Bristol: View Website, and direct informal enquiries to Dr Jill Harrison. The closing date is January 18th 2019.

This project is part-funded by the Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation and the successful applicant will need to provide matching funding to cover tuition and/or bench fees. CSC scholars are welcome to apply by January 18th 2019, and further candidates from the UK, EU and other countries are welcome to apply year round.


1. Domagalska and Leyser (2011). Nature Reviews in Molecular and Cell Biology 12: 211-21.
2. The Arabidopsis genome initiative (2000). Nature 408: 796-815.
3. Rensing et al. (2008). Science 319: 64-69.
4. Bennett et al. (2014). Current Biology 24: 2776-85.
5. Whitewoods et al. (2018). Current Biology 28: 2365-2376.
6. Bennett et al. (2014). Molecular Biology and Evolution 31: 2042-60.

How good is research at University of Bristol in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 64.60

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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