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  Investigating the role of SUMOylation in meiotic recombination and chromosome segregation in Arabidopsis

   Department of Genetics and Genome Biology

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  Dr J Higgins, Dr D Guttery  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Post-translational modifications of proteins such as phosphorylation, methylation and acetylation have been extensively studied in eukaryotes and now the Small Ubiquitin modifier (SUMO) is gaining attention for its importance in fundamental biological roles. SUMO is a small protein that can be conjugated to target proteins through a cascade of E1, E2 and E3 ligases. Recently, SUMO has been mapped to yeast meiotic proteins, indicating an essential role in regulating homologous recombination1. We have identified two potential E3 ligases (based on protein structure), that are required for normal recombination to proceed in Arabidopsis thaliana. Interestingly, in the mutant of one of the genes, crossover sites are altered in number and position, indicating that SUMOylation is required for crossover patterning. The aim of this project will be to characterise one of the E3 ligase mutants and determine its function during meiosis.

You will analyse chromosomes of the Arabidopsis mutants with structured illumination super-resolution microscopy in conjunction with a panel of antibodies that we have generated in the lab that specifically bind to meiotic proteins that control crossover number and position. This will give you an insight into the mutant phenotype and what is going wrong in the absence of the E3 ligase. You will also perform yeast-2-hybrid experiments to identify which proteins the E3 ligase binds to and which lysine residues are targeted. Once interacting proteins have been identified you will perform an in vitro analysis to detect if they are mono- or polySUMOylated. If successful, you will mutate SUMOylated lysine residues and transform the Arabidopsis mutants by complementation to determine the functionality of SUMOylation by phenotypical analysis with cytological and genetic techniques. In addition, you will learn molecular techniques such as cloning, PCR, DNA sequencing and protein analysis.


  1. Bhagwat NR, Owens SN, Ito M, Boinapalli JV, Poa P, Ditzel A, Kopparapu S, Mahalawat M, Davies OR, Collins SR, Johnson JR, Krogan NJ, Hunter N SUMO is a pervasive regulator of meiosis.Link opens in a new window (2021) Elife. 10:e57720. doi: 10.7554/eLife.57720.

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

Super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, DNA extraction, cloning, PCR, DNA sequencing, yeast-2-hybrid analysis, crossing Arabidopsis, bioinformatics.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Sustainable Agriculture and Food - Plant and Crop Science

Applications at the University of Leicester 

  • Complete our ED&I form as an expression of interest in MIBTP
  • All MIBTP students will be provided with a 4 years studentship.

Studentships include:

  • Tuition fees at UK rate*
  • a tax free stipend which for 2023/4 was £18,622 (2024/25 stipend to be confirmed)
  • a travel allowance in year 1, a travel / conference budget, a generous consumables budget, use of a laptop for the duration of the programme.

International students are welcome to apply but applicants must be able to fund the cost of travel to the UK, their visa and associated costs, and the healthcare supplement. The University of Leicester will provide full overseas fee waivers for the duration of their study to all international students accepted at Leicester. The funder, UKRI, allows us to appoint up to 30% overseas students.

  • If you are interested in studying at the University of Leicester, a list of projects and guidance on how to complete the application process can be found on the University of Leicester website.
  • English language requirements for international students can be found on the Leicester website.
  • For questions specific to the Leicester application process, please contact the Leicester admissions team
Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4)

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 About the Project