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Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP) PhD Minimising food loss and waste through breeding - Uncovering the physiological and genetic control of brown heart in Brassica napus

   Department of Agriculture and Environment

   Sunday, August 28, 2022  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Please note this project is open to those students who qualify for Home fees only. We are unable to consider international applicants unless you qualify for Home (UK) fee status.

One of the largest limitations to food security is food loss and waste. Crop discolouration at harvest or postharvest in root vegetables can lead to significant crop losses, as crops are less appealing for consumers (Adams and Brown, 2007; Aschemann-Witzel et al., 215). Understanding the genetic and environmental factors that can cause crop discolouration can reduce this wastage through the identification of resilient genotypes and adjusting growing practises. 

The Fresh Produce Research Centre at HAU collaborates with the University of Warwick and Elsoms Seeds Ltd to investigate postharvest discolouration in a number of different crops. We have previously identified resilient genotypes and practises from crop production to postharvest processing that can alleviate or contribute to crop discolouration. This project is a continuation of these existing collaborations, and will look at a type of discolouration that occurs in Swede called brown heart. 

Brown heart in Swedes is a condition where the subcutaneous tissue of the crop turns brown and looks glassy. It has been linked to boron deficiencies in the soil (Smith and Anderson, 1955), however, recent work has indicated that brown heart incidence and severity are influenced by genotype (Fadhel et al., 2015; Riordan, 2019). We believe brown heart maybe determined by the genetic and or physiological control in boron concentration and distribution in plant tissue. We have identified some varieties that seem more resistant to this disorder and we want to test our hypothesis that boron tissue distribution may play a role. It is this area the Doctoral Researcher will explore as well as trying to understand the underlying physiological and genetic mechanisms that determine susceptibility to discolouration. The Doctoral Researcher will also be encouraged to explore potential agronomic practices that might help mitigate against discolouration occurrence. 

The Doctoral Researcher working on this project will gain an array of scientific skills from exposure to a broad range of experimental techniques, ranging from the field to the laboratory. They will also gain an extensive network of both academic and industry contacts, an insight into industry practises and know their research outputs are having real immediate effects on food security. This project will be a very rewarding project for an ambitious candidate, that will produce a well-rounded researcher with excellent employment prospects. 

The proposed research objectives of the project are to;

  1. Establish abiotic and agronomic (cultivation) factors affecting brown heart. This will involve field trials at Harper Adams, Elsoms’ grower sites and glasshouse trials. These trials would explore the impacts of boron soil concentration, irrigation, and humidity on brown heart, as well as phenotype a known mapping population for the disorder across varying environmental conditions.
  2. Explore the physiological mechanisms underlying brown heart formation in Swede. This could involve SEM microscopy at Harper Adams, fluorescence assays and confocal microscopy at Warwick University.
  3. Explore the molecular control of brown heart between resistant and susceptible Swede lines. This would involve transcriptomics using RNA-seq of resistant and susceptible lines. Further qRT-PCR analysis of candidate gene expression. SDS-PAGE protein analysis and proteomics between resistant and susceptible lines.
  4. Identify candidate genes within the QTL loci, to inform future marker assisted selection swede breeding programs at Elsoms. This could involve using the data generated in objective 1, to build on existing QTL analysis by Elsoms in constructing updated genetic maps (at Warwick). It could lead to the generation of plasmid constructs GM/CRISPR overexpression and knockout mutants.

This project is available through the MIBTP programme. The successful applicant will join the MIBTP cohort and will take part in all of the training offered by the programme. For further details please visit the MIBTP website.


Adams, J. B. and Brown, H. M. 2007. Discoloration in Raw and Processed Fruits and Vegetables. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition , 47:3, 319-333, DOI: 10.1080/10408390600762647
Aschemann-Witzel J, De Hooge I, Amani P, Bech-Larsen T, Oostindjer M. Consumer-Related Food Waste: Causes and Potential for Action. Sustainability. 2015; 7(6):6457-6477. DOI: https: // doi.org/10.3390/su7066457
Fadhel, F., Jellings, A., Kennedy, S. and Fuller, M. 2015. Genotypic resistance to brown heart incidence in swede parent lines and F1 hybrids and the influence of applied boron. The Journal of Agricultural Science , 153 (2), 195-204. DOI:10.1017/SO021859613000889
Riordan, H. E. 2019. Investigating the genetic control of boron concentrations in Brassica napus. PhD thesis, University of York. Embargoed until Nov 2022.
Smith, A. M. and Anderson G. 1955. The relationship between the boron content of soils and swede roots. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Volume 6, 3 pp157-162

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