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Making climate change work for crop yield potential

Project Description

Project summary

We know temperature affects how plants grow but we do not understand the effects of temperature fluctuations, particularly those that are occurring outside the classic seasonal norm. We are observing more of these unusual fluctuations with climate change, such as unusually warm autumns or odd cold days in spring. How are these influencing final crop yields? Which genes control responses to these temperature changes? Can we use them to increase the robustness of the crop to temperature fluctuations?
This project will combine developmental biology with genetic and molecular analysis to identify when, during floral development, wheat is particularly sensitive to temperature and which are the key genetic loci controlling this response. With this knowledge, we will be able to start to modulate how our essential crops respond to fluctuating temperatures.

Project description

Wheat is one of the world’s most important crops, currently providing an essential source of both calories and protein [1]. However, relatively little is known about the responses of wheat to changing temperatures [2]. Understanding this is important, as we are observing an increase in unusual fluctuations as a consequence climate change, such as unusually warm autumns or odd cold days in spring [1]. There is precedence in other plant species (Arabidopsis thaliana) that the floral developmental plan, which includes both timing of flowering and its termination, is closely regulated [3]. In wheat, this regulation may extend beyond just timing and actually provide early developmental regulation of the number of florets that form. Initial experiments have identified that the temperature experienced by wheat during early development impacts on the number and weight of the final grain.

We want to identify which developmental stage is sensitive to temperature fluctuations and the genes that control this sensitivity. We will achieve this through the detailed study of how distinct wheat developmental phases respond to temperature. By combining these developmental analyses with genetic mapping and dissection of molecular responses by RNA-sequencing and biochemical studies, the key genetic loci involved in this response will be identified. The study will look at development in both winter/photoperiod-sensitive and spring/photoperiod-insensitive wheat types, giving the study the potential for impact in a wide range of environmental conditions.
The skills acquired throughout this PhD will provide the student with an excellent training to pursue a career in either academia or industry.


This project will provide training in a wide range of experimental biology skills including field trials and experimental design, genetic mapping, RNA-sequencing and protein analysis. In addition, training to identify the developmental phases of wheat growth will also be provided. Beyond experimental skills this PhD will enable the development of excellent team and individual working skills as well as problem solving. The PhD student will have access to a range of training courses designed to facilitate skills development and will be expected to present the outcomes of this project at both national and international conferences.

Funding Notes

A strong undergraduate (and ideally masters) degree in genetics, biology or plant science is expected. However, training will be provided in all techniques relevant for the project. If you are not sure if you have the relevant background please feel free to contact the supervisors to discuss the project. In addition, a willingness to collect data outside is essential.


2. Dixon, Karsai, Kiss, Adamski, Liu, Yang, Allard, Boden, Griffiths (2019) VERNALIZATION1 controls developmental responses of winter wheat under high ambient temperatures. Development 146, 3
3. Walker and Bennett (2019) A distributive “50% rule” determines floral initiation rates in Brassicaceae. Nature Plants 5, 940-943

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 60.90

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

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