University of Dundee

China Scholarship Council PhD Programme: Understanding gene networks influencing straw digestibility for industrial biotechnology

This project will essentially be data-driven, using large complex genomics and transcriptomics datasets and advanced bioinformatics to validate and expand gene networks and infer gene function. We have identified, from large GWAS projects, several novel genes apparently involved in networks of secondary cell wall biosynthesis. We have extensive additional datasets that can be used to uncover more information about these networks and their component genes e.g. by interrogating very large RNAseq and exome capture datasets for co-expressed genes; by mapping expression onto the barley pseudomolecule assembly as a quantitative trait to derive expression-QTL (eQTL) and identify the causal genes; by identifying SNPs and investigating the influence of different alleles of key genes in the population etc. The depth on information in these existing datasets is staggering and is just awaiting researchers being able to ask the right questions in order to yield ground-breaking discoveries about how plant gene networks and biological systems work.   Once key genes have been identified, their proposed function can be tested with novel tools like gene editing to modify or knock-out activity. We already have gene editing working very efficiently in barley, underpinning future synthetic biology approaches to tailoring plant biomass to specific industrial biotechnology processes.