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MSc by Research Programme: Genetic interactions and novel genes that regulate lignin biosynthesis and straw quality in barley


School of Life Sciences

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Prof Claire Halpin No more applications being accepted Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

This course allows you to work alongside our world renowned experts from the School of Life Sciences and gain a ’real research’ experience. You will have the opportunity to select a research project from a variety of thematic areas of research.

You will be part of our collaborative working environment and have access to outstanding shared facilities such as microscopy and proteomics. Throughout your year, you will develop an advanced level of knowledge on your topic of interest as well as the ability to perform independent research in the topic area. Alongside basic science training in experimental design, data handling and research ethics, we will help you to develop skills in critical assessment and communication. This will be supported by workshops in scientific writing, presentation skills, ethics, laboratory safety, statistics, public engagement and optional applied bioinformatics.

The period of study is one year full-time or two years part-time research, which includes two months to write up the thesis. Please apply via the UCAS postgraduate application form: https://digital.ucas.com/courses/details?coursePrimaryId=c735d826-42b6-ca1f-50db-2a3ac6f68718

Lignin is a major component of plant cell walls, and has a significant influence on the digestibility and uses of plant biomass. The lignin biosynthesis pathway has been one of the most intensively studied plant metabolic pathways over the past two decades. Nevertheless several fundamental aspects of lignification remain to be understood including aspects of its regulation and its developmental coordination with wider plant metabolism. These are important questions to address given the current world-wide focus on the bio-economy, and the potential of using plant biomass as a renewable feedstock to displace the use of fossil resources and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We have been using Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) across a panel of elite barley cultivars to identify the loci and genes that influence lignin biosynthesis and straw digestibility. We have identified many exciting candidate genes and, in the process, have uncovered networks of interacting genes that cooperate to produce plant secondary cell walls and ensure the production of strong stems that support high grain yield. The networks include many genes of unknown function or that are not appreciated to be involved in cell wall development and we want to discover their specific roles and functions. Some are transcription factors of various classes and others are biosynthetic enzymes.

This Masters by Research will help to elucidate how these gene networks function by investigating the roles of a few specific genes. We have large datasets that will facilitate the work including large populations of cultivars with RNAseq and exome capture data (providing gene expression levels in different tissues plus information on single nucleotide polymorphisms –SNPs), a pseudomolecule assembly of the barley genome, TILLING populations of barley mutants, and the ability to use very efficient transgenesis methods (RNAi and CRISPR). Understanding how these genes interact and how they influence cell wall traits will produce data both of fundament importance to understanding plant biology, and of translational importance in expanding opportunities for targeted improvement of plant biomass by rational ‘designer’ approaches. This project can be adapted to the interests of candidates, and, depending on the specifics of the project developed, provides opportunities for training in a wide range molecular techniques, in bioinformatics, in biochemistry and cell biology, and/or in the production of gene edited or RNAi transgenic plants. The student will be part of the University of Dundee, School of Life Sciences but will be based In the Division of Plant Sciences at the near-by James Hutton Institute and will benefit from the facilities and expertise on both sites.
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