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Light control of leaf cell division

School of Biological Sciences

Prof K Halliday , Dr A Richardson Wednesday, January 06, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Plants are highly malleable organisms that are able to adjust their growth strategy to a changing environment. The leaf is an excellent example of a highly plastic organ, where shape and size are not predetermined, but influenced by external signals such as light. These adaptative qualities are important for survival as leaves perform critical roles in temperature regulation, gas exchange and sunlight capture for photosynthesis.
Under vegetation shade, leaf blade growth is severely restricted and carbon resources are redirected to the leaf petiole which elevates and reorientates the blade to capture sunlight1. This adaptive response, which is controlled by phytochrome B (phyB), is critical for survival in vegetation rich environments.

The PhD program will delineate the molecular mechanism through which phyB controls leaf blade growth. You will test two key hypotheses that emerge from recent discoveries in the lab: i) phyB operates through a principal SWI/SNF leaf development module to regulate leaf cell division2; ii) phyB regulates cell division through parallel control of the cell cycle and cytokinesis.

Training: The Halliday lab offers a dynamic learning environment with inputs from different disciplines. During the PhD you will work alongside and learn from experts in plant physiology and phenotyping, molecular signalling and pathway modelling. An important component of the program will be quantitative analysis of plant growth in different growth regimes. Here you will work with experts in 3D plant imaging to develop skills in image capture and analysis. You will also acquire a range of molecular techniques including: DNA/RNA gel electrophoresis, qRT-PCR; protein analysis e.g. western blotting, yeast-two-hybrid, chromatin immuno-precipitation and bioluminescence imaging. The program will provide training in data analysis, hypothesis-based experimentation, critical thinking and report writing. There will be opportunities for you to present your research at regular lab meetings, at national and at international conferences (online and in person when covid19 restrictions allow). The Halliday lab works closely with world-leading scientists in photobiology which will open routes for networking and future collaboration. On joining the lab you will be offered career mentoring, and will have opportunities to gain broader experience in outreach, diversity and inclusion activities.

Current grant: EPSRC EP/S012087/1 (co-I), 2018-22, £582,053

Your second supervisor will be Dr Annis Richardson who brings valuable expertise in leaf development and shape in grasses. be Dr Richardson uses a range of methodologies including molecular-genetics, 3D imaging and computational modelling.

LAB Inclusion Statement
Professor Halliday is Dean of Systematic Inclusion and is responsible for overseeing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy in the College of Science and Engineering. EDI is very much embedded in lab practice. We celebrate diversity and are proud that to have minority ethnic and white lab members from different regions of the world and socio-economic backgrounds. Our aim is to provide a welcoming, inclusive environment where everyone can reach their full potential irrespective of background.

The School of Biological Sciences is committed to Equality & Diversity:

Funding Notes

The “Institution Website” button on this page will take you to our Online Application checklist. Please complete each step and download the checklist which will provide a list of funding options and guide you through the application process.

If you would like us to consider you for one of our scholarships you must apply by 6 January 2021 at the latest.


1. Yang D, Seaton DD, Krahmer J, Halliday KJ. Photoreceptor effects on plant biomass, resource allocation, and metabolic state. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 5;113(27):7667-72. PMID: 27330114
2. Vercruyssen et al., ANGUSTIFOLIA3 binds to SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complexes to regulate transcription during Arabidopsis leaf development. Plant Cell. 2014 Jan;26(1):210-29. PMID: 24443518
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