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The molecular mechanisms underlying reproductive organ photosynthesis

Project Description

Increasing crop yields while decreasing environmental impacts of agriculture is one of the major challenges facing modern society. To meet this challenge we must improve our understanding of how plants grow and respond to their environment. While leaves are often the focus of photosynthetic research, a large body of research indicates that photosynthesis in other organs is important to provide resources for developing seeds. To investigate this further, we are using a comparative approach between several members of the same family of plants, the Brassicaceae, to investigate how certain features of leaves are rewired during flower development to facilitate photosynthesis.

Floral organs are derived from leaves and this metamorphosis has been driven by the activities of a group of MADS domain containing transcription factors. The activities of these transcription factors in only partially understood and we are interested in understanding how they suppress leaf identity while promoting flower identity. Through the use of functional genomics we have identified several interesting candidate interactions between genes and these MADS domain proteins, which we aim to further characterize through a variety of techniques including CRISPR-Cas. We will also use unbiased approaches such as classical genetic screens and single cell RNA-Seq to understand the key regulatory hubs of the gene regulatory network that underlies leaf vs floral identity. This work will improve our understanding of how floral organs evolved.

With these tools in hand, and through the use of natural variation and comparative development, we will also test how modified floral organ photosynthesis influences agriculturally important traits, such as seed oil content. Rapeseed, which is part of the Brassica family, is one of the world’s major oilseeds used during cooking, as a biodiesel, and for animal feed. Therefore, this work will establish a direct link between fundamental and applied research. Upon completion of the graduate program, the student will be trained to pursue a wide variety of research in both academia and industry.

Applicants are expected to have at least an Upper Second Class honours degree in Biological or Life Sciences, or another relevant discipline.

Funding Notes

The project is open to both European/UK and International students. It is UNFUNDED and applicants are encouraged to contact the Principal Supervisor directly to discuss their application and the project.

Assistance will be given to those who are applying to international funding schemes.

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses as well as research costs of at least £3000 per year.

A fee bursary may be available for well qualified and motivated applicants.

Details of costs can be found on the University website:
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Brazel A.J. and Ó’Maoiléidigh D.S. (2019) “Photosynthetic activity of reproductive organs.” Journal of Experimental Botany erz033

Ó’Maoiléidigh D.S., Stewart D., Zheng B., Coupland G., and Wellmer F. (2018) “Floral homeotic proteins modulate the genetic program for leaf development to suppress trichome formation in flowers.” Development 145:dev157784

Ó’Maoiléidigh D.S., Wuest S.E., Rae L., Raganelli A., Ryan P.T., Kwaśniewska K., Das P., Lohan A.J., Loftus B., Graciet E., and Wellmer F. (2013) “Control of reproductive floral organ identity specification in Arabidopsis by the C function regulator AGAMOUS” The Plant Cell 25(7)

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