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Molecular mechanisms underlying seed priming and longevity of Apiaceae crop seeds with morphological dormancy

School of Biological Sciences

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Prof G Leubner No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The overall aim of the project is to investigate the "Molecular mechanisms underlying seed priming and longevity of Apiaceae crop seeds with morphological dormancy". This project is therefore at the very core of agriculture and food security with innovative seed technologies to support the sustainable intensification of crop production. The student will be exposed to commercial application of world-class bioscience research – providing solutions for sustainably enhancing agricultural production. This PhD project is in collaboration with Tozer Seeds (Cobham, Surrey) and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (Wakehurst). Tozer Seeds is an independent British vegetable breeding company located in Surrey that aims to provide consistent high-quality seeds and services for the international market. In our collaboration project with Tozer Seeds on celery morphological dormancy (MD) we have established the physiological and molecular knowledge for celery (Apiaceae) seed germination and laid the foundation to develop celery into a model system for vegetable MD. In the proposed PhD student project for autumn 2020 with Tozer Seeds and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew we take this to the next level with several Apiaceae species and applications relevant to seed industry. The Apiaceae include important vegetables and herbs such as celery, carrot, parsnip, coriander etc. which all have MD seeds and therefore are problematic when applying seed technologies such as priming. It results in reduced seed storability (shelf-life, ageing/longevity) and seems to be caused by very distinct mechanisms compared to vegetable seeds which do not have MD (e.g. Brassica-vegetables). The proposed project includes moving beyond celery to other MD seeds and beyond germination to priming and storability of MD seeds. This is crucial in agriculture and food security to provide sustainable solutions for enhancing crop production. It includes applying innovative novel seed technologies developed in our group and study the underpinning mechanisms in MD seeds. The possibilities of the Seed Science team at RHUL and the collaboration with the company Tozer Seeds and with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew will provide superb training possibilities and will equip the student with skills that exploit novel ways of working.

This CASE PhD project will be supervised jointly by:
1. Prof Gerhard Leubner, Chair of Plant Biochemistry, Head of Seed Science Group, Department of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London
2. Dr Frances Gawthrop, Director of Research and Development at Tozer Seeds
3. Dr Anne Visscher, Comparative Seed Biology Team, Kew Royal Botanical Gardens Millenium Seed Bank

Applicants are invited to contact supervisor(s) by email ahead of submitting their application. Further information about applying for a postgraduate course at Royal Holloway can be found here:

Applications should be submitted online:

Funding Notes

Shortlisted eligible studentship applicants, will be notified within two-three weeks of the application deadline. Formal studentship interviews will usually be held within three-four weeks of the application deadline.
The funding for the project will cover home/EU tuition fees and a yearly stipend.


Hourston JE, Perez M. Gawthrop F, Richards M, Steinbrecher T, Leubner-Metzger G (2019). The effects of high oxygen partial pressure on vegetable Allium seeds with a short shelf-life. Planta - revised version under review
• Ignatz M, Hourston JE, Turečková V, Strnad M, Meinhard J, Fischer U, Steinbrecher T, Leubner-Metzger G (2019). The biochemistry underpinning industrial seed technology and mechanical processing of sugar beet. Planta 250:1717-1729 -
• Wilhelmsson PKI, Chandler J, Fernandez-Pozo N, Graeber G, Ullrich KK, Arshad W, Khan S, Hofberger J, Buchta K, Edgar PP, Pires C, Schranz E, Leubner-Metzger G, Rensing SA (2019). Usability of reference-free transcriptome assemblies for detection of differential expression: a case study on Aethionema arabicum dimorphic seeds. BMC Genomics 20:95.
• Arshad W, Sperber K, Steinbrecher T, Nichols B., Jansen VAA, Leubner-Metzger G, Mummenhoff K (2019). Dispersal biophysics and adaptive significance of dimorphic diaspores in the annual Aethionema arabicum (Brassicaceae). New Phytologist 221: 1434–1446 (
• Sperber K, Steinbrecher T, Graeber K, Scherer G, Clausing S, Wiegand N, Hourston JE, Kurre R, Leubner-Metzger G, Mummenhoff K (2017). Fruit fracture biomechanics and the release of Lepidium didymum pericarp-imposed mechanical dormancy by fungi. Nature Communications 8:1868 DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02051-9
• Hourston JE, Ignatz M, Reith M, Leubner-Metzger G, Steinbrecher T (2017). Biomechanical properties of wheat grains: the implications on milling. Royal Society Interface 14(126): 20160828, DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2016.0828
• Steinbrecher T, Leubner-Metzger G (2017). The biomechanics of seed germination.
Invited Darwin review: Journal of Experimental Botany 68:765-783, doi: 10.1093/jxb/erw428.
• Graeber K, Nakabayashi K, Miatton E, Leubner-Metzger G, Soppe WJJ (2012). Molecular mechanisms of seed dormancy. Invited review: Plant, Cell & Environment 35: 1769-1786, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3040.2012.02542.x
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