Cellulose is a polymer of glucose, and its remarkable structural properties means it is 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. Most plant material is composed of woody secondary cell walls that present an abundant source of biomass but the composite nature of the woody cell wall and, in particular, the presence of the phenolic polymer lignin is a major barrier to accessing and exploiting the carbohydrates in the wall.
There are other cell types that synthesise a secondary cell walls. In particular, the secondary cell walls of the collenchyma are characterised by a cellulose rich wall that lacks lignin. Tomatoes make a particular kind of ‘angular’ collenchyma, that provides provide strong support for the growing plant and is characterised by localised secondary cell wall deposition only in the corners of the cells. This raises the interesting question of how cell wall composition is regulated and how the deposition is localised. We have developed a means of enriching for collenchyma that is suitable for generating high quality RNA for expression analysis. The aim is to analyse the tissue specific expression data to identify genes both involved in synthesis of the cell wall and the transcriptional regulators that control its expression as well as investigating the role of cytoskeleton in localising secondary cell wall deposition.
The project addresses fundamental question related to the differentiation of plant cell walls including identifying the role of the cytoskeleton in localising cell wall deposition and discovering what enzymes synthesise cellulose and other cell wall cell wall polymers in the secondary cell wall. Furthermore, the high cellulose and low lignin content of collenchyma cell walls makes them an ideal next generation of renewable feedstock for the production of biofuels, other chemicals and materials. The project will lay the groundwork for further work to increase secondary cell wall deposition in collenchyma and engineer other cell types to produce collenchyma type cellulose-rich and lignin-free cells, both of which would dramatically increase the quality of the biomass.
This project is to be funded under the BBSRC Doctoral Training Programme. If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website www.manchester.ac.uk/bbsrcdtpstudentships
Applications are invited from UK/EU nationals only. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.
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