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WR DTP iCASE project with LettUsGrow: Exploiting an Amaranth MAGIC population for improvement of leafy vegetable traits

Department of Biology

About the Project

Amaranthus plants have significant potential for sustainable development. These traditional leafy vegetables are eaten across Sub-Saharan Africa and typically harvested from the wild. They have high nutrient content, can be grown on poor soil with low inputs and are C4 plants with enhanced resilience to water deficit. Amaranth cultivation by smallholder farmers (rather than wild harvesting) would provide greater control over availability and enhance consumption for nutritional benefits. In addition, amaranth can deliver household income, because of its high value, and help build climate-resilience into smallholder agriculture. Scaling-up cultivation of amaranth, however, requires improved varieties.

In this project we will use a new Amaranth MAGIC population developed by the World Vegetable Center that captures diversity from 8 parents and across two species (A. hypochondriacus and A. cruentus). We have sequenced the genomes of the 8 parent lines (capturing sequence and structural variation) and know they differ in our target traits, including flowering time, branching from the stem base (enhances regrowth), and nutritional profile (particularly under conditions of water deficit). We will genotype the MAGIC population and collect trait data – both from growing the population in field trials in South Africa (with our partners at the Agricultural Research Council) as well as using highly controlled vertical farming systems to mimic the environmental conditions of different locations of smallholder farmers, with our partners LettUs Grow. The research will assess the impact of environment and genotype on our key traits, and identify genomic regions and differences that impact these traits.

This project offers a unique opportunity to combine genotyping, genomics and quantitative genetics with state-of-the-art plant growth technologies (and biochemistry) within research aimed at sustainable development. It also offers the opportunity to gain practical industry experience in a rapidly growing sector (vertical farming) and insights into the practicalities of starting, growing and operating a technology startup company. The collaboration will provide the student with training for a range of subsequent careers, e.g. in practical horticultural industry, the business side of the horticultural industry, knowledge transfer, or an academic career either in crop improvement, plant science, genomics/genetics and/or bioinformatic/computational biology roles in industry or academia.

The White Rose DTP in Mechanistic Biology is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the BBSRC White Rose Doctoral Training Programme in Mechanistic Biology. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 4 years. The funding includes:

Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£15,285 for 2020/21)
UK tuition fees (£4,473 for 2021/22)
Research support and training charges (RSTC)
Placement costs covered by the industrial partner LettUsGrow

International candidates (including EU) will be considered however they will need to have adequate funds to meet the difference in tuition fees. International tuition fees for 2021 entry is £22,250.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions. If English is not your first language, you will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for your country. Please check our website:

START DATE: 1st October 2021

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