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Investigating the genetic basis of natural variation in plant reproductive thermotolerance

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  • Full or part time
    Prof Twell
    Dr Sinead Drea
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

In the current era of Climate Change and Global Warming understanding the effect of heat stress on plant development and the underlying genetics is essential. Heat stress affects the productivity of many horticulturally and agriculturally valuable plant species and temperature is strongly linked to global vegetation patterns. The negative effects of heat stress can act upon any stage in plant development but the effect on reproduction is most pronounced and is key to productivity and yield.

Aims and objectives:
In this project we will systematically assess the negative effect of heat stress on the reproductive physiology and development of flowering plants and investigate the genetics underpinning thermotolerance using Arabidopsis as a model system. Arabidopsis is an excellent model and unique in terms of the volume of available resources for investigating natural variation and uncovering the genetic basis for natural variation in response to high temperature stress.

Methods and project specific training:
The project will involve:
- Collection of available Arabidopsis accessions with a worldwide distribution.
- Observation and measurement of reproductive development (focusing on pollen and seed set) after exposure to heat stress temperature at key points in the reproductive cycle.
- Phenotypic assays of fertility: pollen production, viability, germination, silique length, seed set, RT-PCR analysis of known heat stress markers including heat shock protein (HSP) genes.
- Transcriptomic analysis of ecotypes with evidence of heat stress tolerance.
- Alignment of phenotypic observations with genomic variation (SNP) data available.

About the supervisors:
DT has successfully supervised 12 doctoral students, many of which have moved onto academic or research positions in Universities, Research Institutes or in Industry. He currently supervises an international research group with 2 postdoctoral scientists and 5 PhD students, focused on the organisation and evolution of gene regulatory networks that control male fertility and pollen development. He is a holder of BBSRC and EU research funding investigating pollen development and male fertility in model (Arabidopsis) and crop species including Brassicas, tomato and rice.

SD has successfully supervised a BBSRC doctoral student, with several publications arising from their work. She is currently supervising postdoctoral scientists and two international doctoral students on projects focused on cereal grain development and variation. She is a holder of BBSRC and Leverhulme Trust grants investigating fruit/seed development in basal eudicots (poppy) and temperate cereals.

We are an equal opportunities employer and particularly welcome applications for Ph.D. places from women, minority ethnic and other under-represented groups.

Funding Notes

Please direct informal enquiries to Professor D. Twell ([email protected]).


Mitchell-Olds and Schmitt (2006) Genetic mechanism and evolutionary significance of natural variation in Arabidopsis. Nature 44, 947-952. [doi:10.1038/nature04878]
Bergelson and Roux (2010) Towards identifying genes underlying ecologically relevant traits in Arabidopsis thaliana. Nature Reviews Genetics 11, 867-879. [doi:10.1038/nrg2896]
Lobell and Gourdji (2012) The Influence of Climate Change on Global Crop Productivity. Plant Physiol. 160, 1686-1697.
Bokszczanin, K. (2013) Perspectives on deciphering mechanisms underlying plant heat stress response and thermotolerance. Frontiers in Plant Sci. 4(315),1-20. [Doi: 10.3389/fpls.2013.00315]

How good is research at University of Leicester in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 37.40

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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