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Triple whammy – breeding wheat for increased winter growth rate

   Faculty of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Tom Bennett, Prof Stefan Kepinski  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Crop root growth has generated significant interest with regard to net zero agriculture, because increasing root mass captures more carbon in the soil, and leads to more effective uptake of nitrogenous fertilizer. A larger and deeper root system also improves drought resilience, an increasing requirement even in the UK. However, there has been a progressive reduction in wheat root mass in elite lines over the last 40 years, likely as result of breeding under conditions on high fertilization, and breeding for increased harvest index.

Our recent results suggest that reduction in wheat root mass has also contributed to increasingly problematic yield losses to blackgrass weed infestations. We thus hypothesise that by breeding for wheat with faster winter growth, especially in the root system, we can achieve a ‘triple whammy’ – increasing carbon capture and nutrient uptake, increasing drought resilience, and increasing resistant to blackgrass. While such a strategy might not have been possible in harder winters of the past, the rapidly warming winters provide an opportunity to increase crop growth during this period when wheat has traditionally been dormant.

The aim of this project is therefore to improve our understanding of winter growth in wheat, using physiological and genetic techniques to investigate diversity in winter growth rate across a wide range of wheat varieties. Candidate genes that regulate winter growth will be identified using quantitative genetic approaches and investigated to determine their role in controlling wheat development. Field trials will be performed at multiple sites, in order to test the functional relevance of the high/low winter growth rates under different environmental conditions. This is an iCASE project partnered by the KWS-Limagrain-RAGT PhD training consortium. As such, the project draws on a huge range of expertise from the crop breeding industry, and the industrial partners will be integrally involved in the planning and execution of the research, as well as the supervision of the student. The student will also undertake a 3-month placement at KWS Cambridge as part of the project. Overall, this project represents an exceptional opportunity to gain training in fundamental scientific skills, to develop knowledge of crop science and the crop breeding industry, and to contribute to our understanding of crop growth and yield improvement.


You should hold a first degree equivalent to at least a UK upper-second class honours degree or a MSc degree in a relevant subject.

Applicants whose first language is not English must provide evidence that their English language is sufficient to meet the specific demands of their study. The Faculty of Biological Sciences minimum requirements in IELTS and TOEFL tests are:

  • British Council IELTS - score of 6.0 overall, with no element less than 5.5
  • TOEFL iBT - overall score of 87 with the listening and reading element no less than 20, writing element no less than 21 and the speaking element no less than 22.

How to apply:

To apply for this project applicants should complete an online application form and attach the following documentation to support their application. 

  • a full academic CV
  • degree certificate and transcripts of marks
  • Evidence that you meet the University's minimum English language requirements (if applicable).

To help us identify that you are applying for this studentship please ensure you provide the following information on your application form;

  • Select PhD in Biological Sciences as your programme of study
  • When asked for source of funding please make it clear that you are applying for a "White Rose BBSRC DTP iCASE Studentship"
  • Give the full project title and name the supervisors listed in this advert.

If you have any further queries regarding this opportunity, please contact [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This iCASE studentship is funded by the White Rose BBSRC DTP and will attract an annual tax-free stipend of £17,668 (based on the 2022/23 stipend rate) for up to 4 years, subject to satisfactory academic progress. The award will also cover the academic fees. This project is in partnership with KWS-Limagrain-RAGT. This opportunity is available to both UK and International applicants, Please note that any expenses related to the relocation of international students to the UK (visa, insurance, NHS fees, flights, etc) would be their responsibility and is not covered by this award.

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