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A seed-centred approach to developing novel control strategies for annual weeds

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  • Full or part time
    Prof Leubner
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Climate change and the rise of herbicide-resistant weed populations amplify the threat to agriculture, and practical weed management systems must be developed for gardens, civic spaces and the horticultural industry. Increasing restrictions on the use of chemicals to control weeds, in particular the potential ban on the use of glyphosate weedkillers in domestic situations, requires novel and sustained approaches for weed control. Annual weeds owe their success, at least in part, to the formation of numerous seeds which enable rapid adaptation to changing environments and the formation of persistent seedbanks. In spring, as temperatures rise, annual weeds germinate rapidly. If they set seed, species such as shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) may produce two to three generations per season. Many weed seeds can remain viable in the soil seedbank, in pavement cracks and along edges of footways and kerbs. Multidisciplinary research into seed germination, dormancy and longevity of noxious annual weeds in domestic and horticultural environments is required to develop novel weed control strategies.

To deliver this PhD CASE studentship project “A seed-centred approach to developing novel control strategies for annual weeds”, the Seed Science Group of Prof Gerhard Leubner, Chair of Plant Biochemistry, and Dr-Ing Tina Steinbrecher (seed biomechanics) at Royal Holloway University (RHUL) join forces with Dr Gerard Clover, Head of Plant Health at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Together, this collaboration provides an excellent team with distinct and complementary expertise for the supervision of multidisciplinary research and training of the student. The training will enable the student to tackle the challenge with multiple methods, and to integrate the results obtained from these various technology levels. The student will combine ecophysiological stress (temperature, water) modelling of seed germination of noxious weed populations from domestic environments, ecological “garden/park” and “pavement/footway” experiments at RHS Wisley to investigate weed seasonal cycles and seedbank formation, quantification of seed storability and dormancy, biomechanics and imaging of seed germination and seedling growth, and molecular (transcriptomes) and hormonal (profiling) analyses to investigate underpinning mechanisms. This will deliver target processes for further developing novel practical and environmentally safe systems for weed seed control in domestic environments.

An attractive work environment at RHUL (main working place) and RHS (CASE placement), research excellence, interdisciplinary team work, international collaborations, and exposure to the industry sector are important advantages. Both partners provide exposure to their collaborators during the project. These include potential future employers such as UK and EU industry. The purpose of the RHS is the encouragement and improvement of the science, art and practice of horticulture in all its branches. Science is central to this purpose, and the four themes in the RHS’s science strategy reflect the organisation’s strengths in ornamental horticulture: A Global Knowledge-bank on Gardening and Garden Plants, Plant Health in Gardens, Gardening in a Changing World, Plant Science for all: People, Plants, Planet. The RHS is committed to scientific research and it underpins horticultural advice. Prof Leubner’s newly refurbished Seed Science lab at RHUL is equipped with all required instrumentation and has experts able to provide training and support in multi-disciplinary methods including weed science, seed biomechanics, growth imaging, hormone profiling, transcriptomics, microscopy and biochemical techniques. The close geographical proximity of RHUL and RHS Wisley will be highly beneficial for the student’s training and support, and for utilising the academic research environments at both partners with their distinct and highly complementary capabilities, experiences and facilities.

Funding Notes

Applicants should already have or be expected to obtain a First or upper Second Class degree in a relevant discipline. This studentship covers tuition fees at the UK/EU rate and includes a stipend at the standard Research Council rate (currently £16,296 per annum). Funding is available for UK and EU students


• Finch-Savage WE, Leubner-Metzger G (2006). Seed dormancy and the control of germination.
Tansley review: New Phytologist 171: 501-523.
• Lenser T, Graeber K, Cevik ÖS, Adigüzel N, Dönmez AA, Grosche C, Kettermann M, Mayland-Quellhorst S, Mérai Z, Mohammadin S, Nguyen T-P Rümpler F, Schulze C, Sperber K, Steinbrecher T, Wiegand N, Strnad M, Mittelsten Scheid O, Rensing SA, Schranz ME, Theißen G, Mummenhoff K, Leubner-Metzger G (2016). Developmental control and plasticity of fruit and seed dimorphism in Aethionema arabicum. Plant Physiology 172: 1691-1707.
• Graeber K, Linkies A, Steinbrecher T, Mummenhoff K, Tarkowská D, Turečková V, Ignatz M, Sperber K, Voegele A, de Jong H, Urbanová T, Strnad T, Leubner-Metzger G (2014). DELAY OF GERMINATION 1 mediates a conserved coat-dormancy mechanism for the temperature- and gibberellin-dependent control of seed germination. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 111(34): E3571–E3580.
• Voegele A, Graeber K, Oracz K, Tarkowská D, Jacquemoud D, Turecková V, Urbanová D, Strnad M, Leubner-Metzger G (2012). Embryo growth, testa permeability, and endosperm weakening are major targets for the environmentally regulated inhibition of Lepidium sativum seed germination by myrigalone A. Journal of Experimental Botany 63: 5337-5350.

How good is research at Royal Holloway, University of London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.00

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