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Investigating the balancing act between yield and nutrient content in wheat

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, January 12, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Wheat is one of the world’s most important crops providing over 20 % of calories eaten by humankind. Our recent work sequencing the wheat genome (International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, 2018) and developing populations for functional gene studies (Krasileva et al., 2017) can now accelerate our understanding of the biological mechanisms controlling wheat growth and development. This knowledge will enable breeding of improved wheat varieties to feed the world’s growing population.

Wheat is not only an important source of calories but also of protein: wheat provides more protein to the human diet than meat. Therefore, when we aim to increase food production of staple crops such as wheat we must also consider the protein content. This is challenging because there is a negative trade-off between yield and protein content so that when yield is increased, generally protein content decreases. This trade-off occurs during the period of grain development when the plant may either continue to photosynthesise which could increase yield, or the plant may start to senesce, allowing nutrients to be remobilised from vegetative tissues into the developing grain and thus increase protein content. Understanding the molecular mechanisms controlling senescence and nutrient remobilisation will allow wheat varieties with enhanced yield and protein content to be developed.

Despite the importance of senescence and nutrient remobilisation in wheat, our knowledge about the molecular mechanisms governing these processes is limited. A PhD project in my lab would capitalise on the latest developments in wheat genomic and genetic resources to functionally characterise these mechanisms, with a potential impact on the global wheat breeding industry. The project could focus on a number of areas:

1) Investigating the functions of key transcription factors which we have identified to likely play a role in senescence, but whose role in nutrient remobilisation is as yet unknown (Borrill et al., 2019).

2) Investigating the communication between the leaf and the developing grain, to improve nutrient remobilisation from the leaf and the allocation of nutrients into the grain.

3) Investigating the role of nutrient transporters expressed specifically during nutrient remobilisation from the leaf into the grain.

All projects would use the latest resources which we have developed including the wheat genome sequence (International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, 2018), gene networks (Ramirez-Gonzalez et al., 2018) and mutant populations which allow knock-outs of genes of interest (Krasileva et al., 2017). These resources will accelerate fundamental biological discoveries directly in an important crop species, which will enable a rapid impact on food security. Projects will provide training in a wide range of skills including molecular biology, plant physiology, genomics and bioinformatics.

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding as a MIBTP 2020 PhD project. MIBTP is a BBSRC funded Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) between the University of Warwick, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester, Aston University and Harper Adams University. Please visit the website for full eligibility and funding details: View Website


Borrill et al., 2019 "Identification of transcription factors regulating senescence in wheat through gene regulatory network modelling". Plant Physiology https://doi.org/10.1104/pp.19.00380
International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, 2018 "Shifting the limits in wheat research and breeding using a fully annotated reference genome". Science https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7191
Krasileva et al., 2017 "Uncovering hidden variation in polyploid wheat". PNAS https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1619268114
Ramirez-Gonzalez, et al., 2018 "The transcriptional landscape of polyploid wheat". Science https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar6089

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.80

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

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