Plant geometry - the biophysical and molecular basis of gravitropism and growth angle control

   Faculty of Biological Sciences

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  Prof Stefan Kepinski, Prof N Cohen  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Gravitropism is a fundamental process in the control of plant architecture, which ensures that shoots typically grow up and roots down, allowing light interception and gas exchange above ground and water and nutrient uptake below. These processes of resource capture are enhanced enormously by the production of lateral root and shoot branches that grow out from the main root-shoot axis at non-vertical angles. Lateral branches are often maintained at specific angles with respect to gravity, independently of the parts of the plant to which they are attached. For this reason, understanding gravitropism and growth angle control in lateral root and shoot branches has become focus in efforts to develop crop varieties for lower-input, net zero carbon agriculture.

Despite the central importance of gravitropic response for the control of plant form, the mechanisms by which roots and shoots maintain vertical growth are relatively poorly understood. Recent discoveries in the Kepinski group at the University of Leeds have provided a new way to approach this fascinating question. Using new mutants, proteomics, and state-of-the-art imaging techniques, including vertical-stage confocal microscopy, this project will allow you to explore the biophysical and molecular basis of the perception of gravity and the ensuing gravitropic response. The project will also involve collaboration with physicists and mathematical modellers and is thus an exciting opportunity to make important discoveries in plant biology while at the same time receiving a training that is truly interdisciplinary.

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact Dr Stefan Kepinski ([Email Address Removed]) if they would like to discuss the project.

Funding Notes

Project is eligible for funding under the Gosden PhD Studentship scheme. The successful candidate will receive a PhD studentship for 4 years, covering fees at UK/EU level and stipend at research council level (£15,009).

Candidates should have/be expecting a 2.1 or above at undergraduate level in a relevant area. If English is not your first language, you will be required to meet our language entry requirements. The PhD is to start in Oct 2020.

Please apply online and include project title and supervisor name, and upload a CV and transcripts.


Del Bianco, M. & Kepinski, S. (2018) Building a future with root architecture. Journal of Experimental Botany 69:5319-5323.

Huang, G., Liang, W., Sturrock, C.J., Pandey, B., Giri, J., Mairhofer, S., Wang, D., Muller, L., Tan, H., York, L.M., Yang, J., Song, Y., Kim, Y, Qiao, Y., Xu, J., Kepinski, S., Bennett, M.J., and Zhang, D. (2018) Rice actin binding protein RMD controls crown root angle in response to external phosphate. Nature Communications 9:2346 DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04710-x

Roychoudhry, S, Kieffer, M, Del Bianco, M, Liao, C, Weijers, D and Kepinski, S. (2017) The developmental and environmental regulation of gravitropic setpoint angle in Arabidopsis and bean. Scientific Reports 7:42664 DOI: 10.1038/srep42664

Wang, R., Zhang, Y., Kieffer, M., Yu, H., Kepinski, S., and Estelle, M. (2016) HSP90 regulates temperature-dependent seedling growth by stabilizing the auxin receptor F-box protein TIR1. Nature Communications 7:10269. doi: 10.1038/ncomms10269.

Roychoudhry, S. and Kepinski, S. (2015) The analysis of gravitropic setpoint angle control in Arabidopsis. Methods in Molecular Biology 1309:31-41. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-2697-8_4.

Roychoudhry, S. and Kepinski, S. (2015) Root and shoot branch growth angle control – The wonderfulness of lateralness. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 23:124-131

Roychoudhry, S., Del Bianco, M., Kieffer, M., Kepinski, S. (2013) Auxin controls gravitropic setpoint angle in higher plant lateral branches. Current Biology 23(15):1497-504. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.06.034.

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