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Novel Candidates for Environmental Control of Photosynthesis

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  • Full or part time
    Dr G Toledo-Ortiz
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Photosynthesis sustains life on earth and is critical for plant biomass production and yield. The acute necessity to boost agricultural productivity and food security has intensified global efforts to improve photosynthetic efficiency. Photosynthesis is regulated by the light-activated phytochrome (phy) photoreceptors, yet control of light signalling cascades as a strategy to enhance photosynthesis remains an underexplored field. Phys convert information from light sources into biological signals, synchronizing plant development to an ever changing environment. This study aims to uncover a novel role of phys in controlling chloroplast functions via RNA processing and retrograde signalling to the nucleus. Central to this regulation are the nuclear-encoded (but chloroplast located) RNA binding proteins (RNPs). In contrast to the nucleus, chloroplasts do not rely heavily on transcription to control their gene expression, instead they rely on RNA processing and stabilization. Current experimental results show that a group of RNPs gene expression is controlled by light and sensitive to temperature. Likewise, mutants in some of these RNPs have severe greening defects, pointing at a vital new signalling pathway from phytochromes to optimize greening. This research project aims to: (a) understand how external light and temperature cues synchronize photosynthesis and photomorphogenesis through an RNP-based mechanism and (b) define a new route that impacts plant productivity when external light and temperature conditions become less favourable. This is part of a state-of-the-art research program that will uncover vital pathways that impact plant growth/yield and provide new tools for developing environmental friendly technologies to address climate change and food security.

This PhD project will specifically test the hypothesis that phys operate through the RNPs to activate a chloroplastic pathway that is required for photoautotrophic growth in Arabidopsis. Specific objectives include: (1) Use of reverse genetics to determine the impact of RNPs on photomorphogenesis, photosynthesis and changing environment acclimation responses; (2) Establish the role of phy in modulating RNPs activity; (3) Investigate whether phy via RNPs participates in retrograde signalling to the nucleus. The combination of molecular biology, growth/photosynthesis associated physiology, biochemistry and cell biology will ensure parallel work streams. The program is expected to deliver high quality publications and provide with an optimal training in modern plant biology.

Further Information:

Academic Requirements: First-class or 2.1 (Hons) degree, or Masters degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject.

Deadline for applications: 14 February 2016

Provisional Interview Date: [tbc] Week Beginning 29 February 2016

Start Date: October 2016

Application process: Please upload a completed application form (download from outlining your background and suitability for this project and a CV at LEC Postgraduate Research Applications,

You also require two references, please send the reference form (download from to your two referees and ask them to email it to Andy Harrod ([Email Address Removed]), Postgraduate Research (PGR) Co-ordinator, Lancaster Environment Centre by the deadline.

Due to the limited time between the closing date and the interview date, it is essential that you ensure references are submitted by the closing date or as soon as possible.

Funding Notes

Full studentships (UK/EU tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for UK/EU students for 3.5 years or full studentships (International tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for International students for 3 years.


1. Quail PH. (2010). Phytochromes. Curr Biol. 22;20(12) :R504-507.
2. Berry JO, Yerramsetty P, Zielinski AM, Mure CM. (2013). Photosynthetic gene expression in higher plants. Photosynth Res. 117(1-3):91-120.
3. Kleine T, Voigt C, Leister D.(2009). Plastid signalling to the nucleus: messengers still lost in the mists?. Trends Genet. 25(4):185-192.
4. Deng XW, Gruissem W.(1987). Control of plastid gene expression during development: the limited role of transcriptional regulation. Cell. 49(3):379-387.
5. Deng XW, Tonkyn JC, Peter GF, Thornber JP, Gruissem W.(1989). Post-transcriptional control of plastid mRNA accumulation during adaptation of chloroplasts to different light quality environments. Plant Cell. 1(6):645-54.
6. Jacobs J, Kück U. (2011). Function of chloroplast RNA-binding proteins. Cell Mol Life Sci. 68(5):735-48.

How good is research at Lancaster University in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

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