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Molecular mechanisms underlying floral organ photosynthesis

Project Description

Flowers evolved from leaves. Although we know some of the master regulators of this process, we do not completely understand how they shaped floral evolution. One aspect of development that these master regulators control is photosynthesis. Leaves are often the focus of photosynthetic research, however, a large body of research indicates that photosynthesis in other organs, such as fruits, is important to provide resources for developing seeds. The molecular mechanisms that control the establishment and activity of photosynthesis in fruits are largely unclear, however, we have identified novel links between fruit development and photosynthetic activity.

To investigate this further, we are using a comparative approach between several members of the mustard family (including oilseed rape) to investigate how the regulation of photosynthesis in leaves is rewired during flower and fruit development. We will focus on the transcriptional regulation of key genes involved in photosynthesis and identify and/or characterize the cis regulatory elements required for their transcription in different tissues. The transcription factors that bind to these cis regulatory are known in the case of some but not all genes. Therefore, the project will focus heavily on the interfaces between cis regulatory elements belonging to ‘photosynthesis genes’ and transcription factors that controls floral organ and fruit development.

Primary research techniques include functional genomics, genome-editing, confocal microscopy, gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence analysis, mass spectrometry, and high performance liquid chromatography. This technique-rich research program will enable the student to pursue a wide variety of research in both academia and industry upon completion of the graduate program. Furthermore, there is strong potential to increase crop yields without exacerbating the environmental impacts of agriculture in this project, which is one of the major challenges facing modern society. The impact of non-leaf photosynthesis extends to many crop such as tomato, wheat, and barley, which will enable the student to devise their own research projects to translate the work with mustard plants to these organisms.

Successful applicants will join a growing lab at the University of Liverpool. We have recently been awarded the prestigious BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship, which includes funding to host a research technician and postdoctoral researcher.

Applications should be made by emailing with a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees), and a covering letter – clearly stating your first choice project, and optionally 2nd and 3rd ranked projects, as well as including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project(s) and at the selected University. Applications not meeting these criteria will be rejected.
In addition to the CV and covering letter, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (Word document) to . A blank copy of this form can be found at:
Informal enquiries may be made to

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year BBSRC studentship under the Newcastle-Liverpool-Durham DTP. The successful applicant will receive research costs, tuition fees and stipend (£15,009 for 2019-20). The PhD will start in October 2020. Applicants should have, or be expecting to receive, a 2.1 Hons degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. EU candidates must have been resident in the UK for 3 years in order to receive full support. Please note, there are 2 stages to the application process.


Photosynthetic activity of reproductive organs. Journal of Experimental Botany 70(6), 1737-1753 (2019)

Floral homeotic proteins modulate the genetic program for leaf development to suppress trichome formation in flowers. Development, 145(3) (2018)

Dynamics of chromatin accessibility and gene regulation by MADS-domain transcription factors in flower development. Genome Biology, 15(3) (2014)

Gene networks controlling Arabidopsis thaliana flower development. New Phytologist, 201(1), 16-30 (2014)

Control of Reproductive Floral Organ Identity Specification in Arabidopsis by the C Function Regulator AGAMOUS. The Plant Cell 25(7), 2482-2503 (2013)

Molecular basis for the specification of floral organs by APETALA3 and PISTILLATA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(33), 13452-13457 (2012)

The plastidial pentose phosphate pathway is essential for postglobular embryo development in Arabidopsis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 116(30), 15267-15306 (2019)

Cell wall degradation is required for normal starch mobilisation in barley endosperm. Scientific Reports 6(1), 33215 (2016)

Altered starch turnover in the maternal plant has major effects on Arabidopsis fruit growth and seed composition. Plant Physiology 160(3), 1175-1186 (2012)

Starch turnover in developing oilseed embryos. New Phytologist 187, 791-804 (2010)

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