University of Dundee

EASTBIO: How does jasmonate control cereal development?

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership This opportunity is open to UK and EU nationals.

Applicants should apply by completing the EASTBIO application form (downloadable from the EASTBIO website) and e-mail to Candidates should also include their academic transcripts and ensure that they ask their referees to send completed references to Applicants may wish to explain their motivation for joining the EASTBIO training programme.

From the earliest farmers to modern plant breeders, humans continually modified the body plan of cereals, sometimes drastically, to generate higher grain yields. In young seedlings, stems are very short but dramatically elongate when the cereal starts to flower. Tall grain-heavy cereals are prone to falling over, a devastating event for farmers, so controlling cereal height is an important breeding target. Despite the importance of this trait to yield, we understand little about how stem elongation is coordinated with flowering. Excitingly, recent work in the McKim lab suggests that the transition to stem elongation associated with flowering may be mediated by plant hormone interactions. In particular, we discovered that jasmonate, a classic plant stress/defense hormone, strongly inhibits both flowering and stem elongation in barley (Patil et al., 2019). However, we don’t know whether jasmonate is important to suppress stem elongation in seedlings, whether environmental cues interact with jasmonate to control flowering and/or stem elongation or whether altered jasmonate signalling influences different sensitivity to pathogens in juvenile versus flowering barley.

In this project, your aim is to assess the importance of jasmonate in developmental transitions, especially the switch to stem elongation during flowering. You will exploit the latest advances in CRISPR-Cas gene-editing and TILLING to generate a series of barley lines defective in different parts of the jasmonate pathway. Using genetic analyses and physiological experiments with these lines, you will reveal the importance of jasmonate to developmental transitions and flowering time signals in barley. In this work, you will also investigate the movement of signals into the stem and whether this is influenced by jasmonate. In addition, you will assess whether these lines show altered susceptibility to pathogens and pests. Lastly, in order to follow jasmonate activity, you will develop state of the art jasmonate reporters and explore how these reporters are influenced by developmental stage, external conditions and pathogen attack. Taken together, you will reveal the developmental roles of jasmonate in barley, a key global crop, about which almost nothing is known, and advance our understanding of interactions which influence stem elongation and flowering.

Students with a passion for research who are motivated by a desire to improve our food security are great candidates for this position. The ideal candidate will also be keen to contribute togroup efforts within the lab. This PhD project will give the successful candidate transferrable lab skills, experience in crop research and exposure to a highly stimulating research environment. The student will participate in post-graduate training and multiple opportunities to engage with the public. The McKim lab emphasises the importance of conference presentation experience as a key part of graduate student training. The student will also benefit from a unique training environment offered by the Division of Plant Sciences, based at the James Hutton Institute (JHI), one of the best centres in the world to study cereals, and the site of the new International Barley Hub (2).

(1) Patil et al (2019) APETALA control of internode elongation in barley. Development. 146(11). pii: dev170373