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Understanding the role of a novel gene, DOMAIN OF UNKOWN FUNCTION (DUF), in retrograde stress signaling

   Department of Biosciences

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  Dr Ulrike Bechtold  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Optimising energy status for plant growth or stress responses is critical for both agricultural and natural ecosystems. Through gene regulatory network analysis, we identified the unknown protein DOMAIN OF UNKOWN FUNCTION (DUF) as a putative transcriptional regulator of energy signalling pathways under drought stress conditions. This project represents an exciting opportunity for a student to investigate how DUF may help to detect and communicate stressful conditions within plant cells. This protein is inside the chloroplast, specifically at the thylakoid membrane, and appears to be ubiquitous across the plant kingdom. Loss of function mutants have altered photosynthetic electron transport, and sugar status when subjected to stress. We hypothesize that DUF may be sensing the energy status of plants integrating primary metabolism with transcriptional responses under stress conditions. We have identified several DUF interacting proteins, which may be part of a retrograde signalling pathway conveying energy signals from the chloroplast to the nucleus. The successful candidate will address the question of how this protein detects stress in the chloroplast, and signals this to other subcellular compartments. The aim is to evaluate potential binding partners and to assess if and how DUF may sense and convey the energy status to affect transcriptional changes.

Training will be provided in plant stress phenotyping, including photosynthetic performance, growth and productivity. In addition, a range of molecular biology, gene expression and protein biochemistry lab skills will be acquired. The student will also benefit from a collaboration with Helsinki University investigating the chloroplast proteome utilizing state-of-the art chloroplast proteomics and protein interaction techniques. Students with a background in molecular biology, biochemistry or plant biology are strongly encouraged to apply.

For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Ulrike Bechtold ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

If you are interested in applying, in the first instance contact the supervisor, Dr Ulrike Bechtold ([Email Address Removed]), with a CV and covering letter, detailing your reasons for applying for the project.
Please note that funding is only available for UK Students or EU Students with settled status. The University reserves the right to withdraw this studentship, if necessary.


Bechtold U et al (2016) Time-series transcriptomics reveals that AGAMOUS-LIKE22 links primary metabolism to developmental processes in drought-stressed Arabidopsis. The Plant Cell 28, 345–66
Bechtold U and Field B (2018) Molecular mechanisms controlling plant growth during abiotic stress. Journal of Experimental Botany 69: 2753–2758.
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