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Uncovering the molecular mechanisms regulating stress-induced flowering.

Department of Biosciences

Dr M de Lucas , Prof A Jones Friday, January 22, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Durham United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Molecular Biology Plant Biology Plant Cell Biology

About the Project

Due to the exponential increase of world population, without an associated increase in arable land, and the rapid global environmental changes observed in recent years that significantly threaten agriculture, there is an obligated need for the improvement of crop production.

The optimal regulation of flowering time, defined as the transition from vegetative to reproductive growth, is critical to species survival and is considered a decisive trait for the improvement of crops. Research over the last 30 years have elucidated the molecular circuits behind flowering induction by photoperiod, temperature and autonomous pathways. These findings have had a pivotal contribution in the improvement of agriculture, making it more sustainable, efficient and secure.

The perception of stress (heat, drought or salinity) induces flowering. This strategy allows plants to maximize the chances of reproduction under harsh environments however, it also causes a premature transition to reproductive growth that leads to the reduction of biomass and yield. Despite our great understanding of the molecular regulation of flowering time, little is known about how stress perception impinges into flowering control.

The Small Ubiquitin-Like Modifier (SUMO) type of protein post-translational modification acts as a bona-fide indicator of cellular stress (stressed cells show high levels of protein SUMOylation). We have found that the activity of key components of the flowering time regulatory machinery are modulated by SUMO. Characterizing and understanding how stress-induced protein SUMOylation impacts into the regulation of flowering time would lead to the identification of good candidate genes for breeding.

By using state-of-the-art phenomics, confocal microscopy and proteomic (mass-spectometry) approaches in combination with CRISPr technology and other molecular biology techniques in the model plant Arabidopsis and rice, this project aims to elucidate the molecular mechanisms behind stress-induced flowering, their conservation across species and their use for the improvement of crop production.

 “Our mission is to create fundamental knowledge through innovative science that links epigenetics and molecular biology with plant plasticity regulation. We strive to create a lab that values and includes people with diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences.”

Informal enquiries may be made to


 Applications should be made by emailing with a CV and a covering letter, including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project/s and at the selected University. Applications not meeting these criteria will be rejected. We will also require electronic copies of your degree certificates and transcripts.

 In addition to the CV and covering letter, please email a completed copy of the NLD BBSRC DTP Studentship Application Details Form (Word document) to , noting the additional details that are required for your application which are listed in this form. A blank copy of this form can be found at:

Funding Notes

Studentships are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for 4 years. Funding will cover tuition fees at the UK rate only, a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) and stipend. We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


Fruit‐dependent epigenetic regulation of flowering in Citrus.
The New Phytologist, nph.16044. (2019).
Transcriptional Regulation of Arabidopsis Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 Coordinates Cell-Type Proliferation and Differentiation.
The Plant Cell 28: 2616–2631. (2016)
An Arabidopsis gene regulatory network for secondary cell wall synthesis.
Nature 517: 571–575. (2015).
A molecular framework for light and gibberellin control of cell elongation.
Nature 451: 480–484. (2008)
Strong anion exchange-mediated phosphoproteomics reveals extensive human non-canonical phosphorylation.
Embo j, e100847
Improvements to the Rice Genome Annotation Through Large-Scale Analysis of RNA-Seq and Proteomics Data Sets.
Mol Cell Proteomics 18, 86-98
Comparative qualitative phosphoproteomics analysis identifies shared phosphorylation motifs and associated biological processes in evolutionary divergent plants.
J Proteomics 181, 152-159
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