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How plants create a nanoscale highways in their cell membrane

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

About the Project

Rapidly changing weather patterns have made the impact of climate change increasingly obvious. Cellulose is the planet’s most abundant bio-polymer and represents our largest resource of renewable feedstock that can be used to make a variety of different bulk products including biofuels, chemicals and biomaterials. It represents the only current viable alternative to products that are at present derived from fossil fuels, particularly oil, and has the potential to replace many of our oil-based products with the ones that are biodegradable and produced with little, or no, net CO2 emissions.

Cellulose is composed of glucose chains bound together to form rigid microfibrils that are essential for all aspects of plant growth. It is synthesised by a large complex that is driven through the plasma membrane as it extrudes a growing microfibril. Allowing unimpeded movement of the complex is essential to a cell’s ability to accommodate this process while also maintaining plasma membrane integrity. This proposal will test the hypothesis that protein modification organises membrane partitions that are essential for unimpeded movement of the complex. Understanding this process will improve our ability to alter plant growth and/or utilise cellulose for bioprocessing.
The overall project is a multidisciplinary approach that uses molecular genetics, proteomic and live cell imaging to study protein post translational modification and its effect on protein localisation in the membrane. This involves the latest techniques including proximity labelling and use of the most up to date and sensitive mass spectrometers and microscopes to study protein organisation within the cell. The PhD student will work with an experienced research associate also funded on this project, but will be responsible for their own particular objectives.

Applicants are expected to hold, or about to obtain, a minimum upper second class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in biology, biochemistry, cell biology, biotechnology or plant science. A Masters degree in a relevant subject and/or experience in either molecular genetics, protein chemistry or microscopy is desirable.

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor. You MUST also submit an online application form - choose PhD Plant Science.

Funding Notes

This project is funded by Leverhulme Trust. Studentship funding is for a duration of four years to commence in September 2020/January 2021 and covers UK/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend (£15,841 per annum 2020/21).

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Kumar, M., Carr, P., and Turner, S.R. (2020). Proteomic analysis reveals a widespread role of S-acylation in the function of Arabidopsis proteins.

Kumar, M., Mishra, L., Carr, P., Pilling, M., Gardner, P., Mansfield, S.D., and Turner, S.R. (2018). Exploiting CELLULOSE SYNTHASE (CESA) class-specificity to probe cellulose microfibril biosynthesis. Plant Physiol. 177, 151-167.

Kumar, M., Atanassov, I., and Turner, S. (2017). Functional Analysis of Cellulose Synthase (CESA) Protein Class Specificity. Plant Physiol. 173, 970-983.

Kumar, M., Wightman, R., Atanassov, I., Gupta, A., Hurst, C.H., Hemsley, P.A., and Turner, S. (2016). S-Acylation of the cellulose synthase complex is essential for its plasma membrane localization. Science 353, 166-169.

Etchells, J.P., Mishra, L.S., Kumar, M., Campbell, L., and Turner, S.R. (2015). Wood Formation in Trees Is Increased by Manipulating PXY-Regulated Cell Division. Curr. Biol. 25, 1050-1055.

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