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Understanding leaf tissue breakdown in pot-grown basil

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr T Stead  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Pot-grown Basil production by Vitacress provides 65% of the total pot basil consumed annually by the British consumer, some 8 million pots per annum. Each basil pot is expected to survive on the supermarkets display stands for at least 5 - 6 days and be of a similar quality on day 6 to that on day 1. Pot basil suffers from a breakdown of leaf tissue that is progressive in terms of its development on the plants leaves as the plant moves through its shelf life period in store and this can lead to excessive waste.

Loss of quality through the transport chain and during the shelf life process result in high in-store wastage which is both costly and detrimental to consumer perceptions. Understanding the conditions that promote this tissue breakdown and suggesting ways to minimise it are central to this proposal. In a previous successful BBSRC-funded studentship we have worked with Vitacress to develop growing regimes that improve the chill-tolerance of pot-grown basil as transporting material at lower temperatures can extend the shelf-life and may, given the position many stores display pot-grown herbs under, offer some protection when pot-grown herbs are displayed in areas where the store deliberately reduces the ambient temperature (again to increase shelf life). In the present project we will use biochemical (eg production of reactive oxygen species) molecular and structural markers to follow leaf breakdown thus training in a wide range of techniques (including bioinformatics, electron microscopy, PCR etc) will be provided as appropriate.

In the course of our previous studentship with Vitacress we used RNAseq to develop an extensive transcriptome of about 12,000 gene sequences, this resource will allow this project to investigate which genes, and therefore which metabolic pathways, are involved in the tissue breakdown process and, if appropriate RNAseq will be used to compare gene expression in healthy tissue to that of damaged tissue. From this information we can look at introducing conditions or treatments (either during growth, transport or on the supermarket shelf) that are known to modify the activity of the critical pathways and thereby reduce the incidence of damaging leaf tissue breakdown.

If appropriate the student will spend some time conducting research at Vitacress (Runcton, W. Sussex) and they will be expected to meet with, and produce reports for, staff in all parts of the supply chain thus providing excellent opportunities for interacting with an industry that is known to be short of well-qualified students.

Funding Notes

This studentship is part funded by Vitacress and Royal Holloway.
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