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Understanding cellulose synthesis in plants

   Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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  Prof Simon Turner, Prof Stephen High  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

It is clear that there is now enormous pressure to develop much better replacements for plastics derived from fossil fuels. One possibility is to develop novel plastics based on polymers from plants. Cellulose is a polymer of glucose with remarkable structural properties making it the world’s most abundant biopolymer. Cellulose from higher plants is an abundant source of renewable material that can be used as a source of raw material for chemical and fuel production, or for generating novel biomaterials.
Our understanding of cellulose synthesise is increasing, but progress is still hampered by the inability to purify an intact functional cellulose synthase complex. As a consequence, it is not clear what all the components of the complex are and what other proteins within the cell they interact with. For example, while we know that movement of the complex is regulated by cortical microtubules, but the mechanistic details of this guidance are unclear.
An alternative to trying to purify proteins complexes is to utilise a method that labels nearby proteins in a way that facilitates their purification and identification. Such methods, known as proximity-dependent labelling are becoming increasingly used and are ideal for protein complexes, such as the cellulose synthase complex, that are hard to purify. Recent method improvements make this an exciting time to apply this method to improve our understanding of how cellulose is synthesised.
The project should interest any student who wants to understand more about the fundamentals of how cellulose is synthesised by the plant cells. In future, such information is likely to be important if we are to realise the full potential of cellulose as a renewable resource for the production of cheap, abundant, environmentally-friendly materials, biofuels and other chemicals.

Training/techniques to be provided:
The Turner laboratory has a long track record of research into cellulose synthesis. As a consequence, in addition to being equipped with the necessary equipment, that lab also has a range of different resources that will help make this project a success including: transformed lines that already contain many tagged proteins, fluorescently-tagged proteins to act as markers. The project will involve the student being involved in cutting-edge proteomics, fluorescence microscopy and molecular genetics. Proteomics will be performed by the Biomolecular Analysis Facility that houses state of the art mass spectroscopy equipment. The High Lab will provide expertise in application of proximity-dependent labelling techniques.

Entry Requirements:
Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a related area / subject. Candidates with experience in biochemistry, molecular genetics or with an interest in biotechnology are encouraged to apply.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 2 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website ( For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Branon, T.C., Bosch, J.A., Sanchez, A.D., Udeshi, N.D., Svinkina, T., Carr, S.A., Feldman, J.L., Perrimon, N., and Ting, A.Y. (2018). Efficient Proximity Labeling in Living Cells and Organisms with Turboid. Nat. Biotechnol. 36, 880-+. doi:10.1038/nbt.4201
Kumar, M., Mishra, L., Carr, P., Pilling, M., Gardner, P., Mansfield, S.D., and Turner, S.R. (2018). Exploiting Cellulose Synthase (Cesa) Class-Specificity to Probe Cellulose Microfibril Biosynthesis. Plant Physiol. 177, 151-167. doi:10.1104/pp.18.00263
Kim, D.I., and Roux, K.J. (2016). Filling the Void: Proximity-Based Labeling of Proteins in Living Cells. Trends Cell Biol. 26, 804-817. doi:10.1016/j.tcb.2016.09.004
Kumar, M., Wightman, R., Atanassov, I., Gupta, A., Hurst, C.H., Hemsley, P.A., and Turner, S. (2016). S-Acylation of the Cellulose Synthase Complex Is Essential for Its Plasma Membrane Localization. Science 353, 166-169. doi:10.1126/science.aaf4009
Martínez-Lumbreras, S. et al., (2018). Structural complexity of the co-chaperone SGTA: a conserved C-terminal region is implicated in dimerization and substrate quality control. BMC Biology 16: 76.
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