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MSc by Research programme - The Generation Gap – understanding tissue communication during grain development

School of Life Sciences

Dundee United Kingdom Cell Biology Genetics Molecular Biology

About the Project

Cereal grain provides more calories to our food supply than any other source. Cereal grain is also a critical feedstock for malting and brewing. Despite this, we know little about how a cereal grain develops. In my lab, we use barley as a model cereal to learn about the genes controlling grain development, with our overall aim to improve grain yield and quality. 

The grain contains an embryo and endosperm, both filial tissues, which are surrounded by nutritive maternal tissues (1). During development, maternal tissues degrade as the endosperm enlarges by accumulating large reserves of starch. The embryo, endosperm and maternal tissues communicate with each other to coordinate this process (1,2). We recently discovered that a transcription factor controls maternal tissue elimination, dramatically altering endosperm size and shape.  

In this project, your objective is to find out how this gene works. You will use state-of-the-art imaging technologies and transcriptomic profiling to understand how this gene alters tissue growth and gene expression. You will also exploit hormone reporter lines to assess how this gene may influence hormone signalling across grain tissues. While based in our lab at the University of Dundee at the James Hutton Institute, you will execute this project in close collaboration with the research group of Assistant Professor Matt Tucker at the University of Adelaide, Australia.   

From this work, you will learn advanced approaches in crop genomics, transcriptomics and imaging as well as exploit the latest tools in developmental crop genetics. You will also benefit from a unique training environment offered by the Division of Plant Sciences, based at The James Hutton Institute (JHI), one of the best centres in the world to study cereals.  

This project would best suit a student who has a passion for research and relishes independence and new experiences. The ideal candidate will also be keen to contribute to group efforts within the McKim lab.  

Please see our website for further details and how to apply -


(1) Baroux C, Grossniklaus U. Seeds-An evolutionary innovation underlying reproductive success in flowering plants. Current topics in developmental biology. 2019;131:605-42.
(2) Doll N.M., Depe`ge-Fargeix N., Rogowsky P.M., and Widiez T.(2017). Signaling in Early Maize Kernel Development. Mol. Plant.10, 375–388

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