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University of Portsmouth Featured PhD Programmes
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Stress responses in crops and sustainable production of chemicals and biomass

School of Biological Sciences

Egham United Kingdom Biochemistry Bioinformatics Biotechnology Genetic Engineering Genetics Genomics Molecular Biology Plant Biology Plant Cell Biology

About the Project

The project aims at elucidating several aspects of the control of plant defences and to identify environmentally friendly forms of plant protectants and phytopharmaceuticals, leading to enhanced crop yields and solutions for animals and human health..

Host processes and components required for the reproduction of plant microbes to uncouple stress-induced growth in plants are studied to open the possibility to engineer crops to gain ‘natural immunity’. Host processes linked with microbial growth to uncover cellular and metabolic changes associated with their demands will be elucidated (Noir et al, 2013, Plant Physiol 161: 1930-1951; Bomer et al 2020, New Phytol doi: 10.1111/nph.17031).

This research will also further our understanding of biomass production and its regulation in response to stress to improve cell wall accessibility in biofuel feedstocks (Cook C, Devoto A, 2011, J Sci Food Agr, 91:1729-1732). The project will use high-throughput functional genomics including molecular and cell biology techniques as well as bioinformatics.

Analysis of chromatin remodelling increase fitness potential of plants during stress responses will also be performed. Understanding the mechanism by which chromatin remodelling and/or hormone signalling components work in regulating cell growth in response to the stress, will contribute to increase fitness potential (and biomass or high value chemicals, accumulation) of plants during stress, a critical issue for a sustainable agriculture development. Using high-throughput functional genomics, the role of newly identified molecular components of jasmonate (JA)-mediated stress and development (Noir et al, 2013, Plant Physiol 161: 1930; Pérez-Salamó et al 2019 Annual Plant Reviews, doi: 10.1002/9781119312994.apr0653) will be established. This project will contribute to identifying the link between plant growth and responses to stress and will lead to the discovery of regulators with the potential to engineer stress signalling pathways. The knowledge accumulated here will be applied to crops.

Novel biotechnological routes to discovering phytopharmaceuticals in plants will also be explored. The plant hormone jasmonic acid induces the biosynthesis of defence proteins and protective secondary metabolites. Pathways with potential to produce therapeutic drugs will be manipulated with the dual aim of developing a greater understanding of the metabolism involved, that is often related to plant defence, and to develop small molecules or precursors for new medicines. Success in manipulating the targeted metabolic pathways will be analyzed through a novel functional screening system. The analysis of diverse plant lines will improve the understanding of key pathways leading to the production of economically important compounds acting as toxins, antimalarial, or antineoplastic drugs in planta. The project offers the opportunity to become familiar with approaches and techniques of wide applicability such as high-throughput functional genomics, epigenetics, as well as molecular biology and protein engineering.

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