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Mathematical modelling of wounding response in plants (BLYTHMU20SF)

School of Mathematics

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Dr M Blyth No more applications being accepted Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

When a plant is wounded, for example by cutting, a signal is sent out from the wound site to other parts of the plant. However, the mechanism by which this signal is transported is not well understood. A strong hypothesis concerns the transport of a so-called Ricca factor. At the wound site a chemical agent is deposited into the xylem, the conduit system which allows the transport of water from root to shoot, and is then transported within the xylem fluid to other sites. Key points of contention are the mechanism for transport and the transport rate. Under one proposal transport occurs via diffusion, but experimental observations have shown that this would require an unrealistically large diffusivity coefficient. In recent work (see Blyth & Morris 2019) we have shown that if the fluid mechanics in the xylem is properly accounted for, then a realistic diffusivity coefficient is calculated. However, many questions remain to be answered. For example, the signal can be transported against the prevailing flow direction in the xylem, i.e. it can move from shoot to root, so how is this possible?

In this project we will aim to answer this and other questions. The emphasis will be on mechanical modelling, including working toward an understanding of how fluid moves through the complex xylem architecture, and how the xylem geometry may help or hinder the transport of a chemical agent. But there are also biochemical questions of importance here that are ripe for mathematical modelling. For example, the wound signal can actually be measured as an electrical signal propagating over the surface of the plant (this is known as a variation potential). A key question concerns how the plant responds to the Ricca factor in the xylem and communicates this as an electrical signal to the plant surface.

The student will benefit from strong links between the supervisor, Dr Blyth, and the John Innes Centre for plant science (JIC), which is situated within walking distance of the main UEA campus.


Project supervisor:
Mode of study: Full time
Start date: October 2020
Entry requirements: First degree (2:1 or above) in Mathematics or Physics.

Funding Notes

This PhD project is offered on a self-funding basis. It is open to applicants with funding or those applying to funding sources. Details of tuition fees can be found at

A bench fee is also payable on top of the tuition fee to cover specialist equipment or laboratory costs required for the research. Applicants should contact the primary supervisor for further information about the fee associated with the project.


i) M. G. Blyth & R. J. Morris (2019) Shear enhanced dispersion of a wound substance as a candidate mechanism for variation potential transmission. Frontiers in Plant Science

ii) R. J. Morris & M. G. Blyth (2019) How water flow, geometry and material properties drive plant movements, J. Experimental Botany, 70(14)

iii) P.J. Kramer & J. S. Boyer, Water relations of plants and soils, Academic Press
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