University of Dundee

EASTBIO: Your Best Face Forward – how cereals regulate their epidermal surfaces.

Plants living on land face brutal conditions with threats from pests, dehydration and temperature extremes. To survive and thrive on land, plants evolved a specialised surface, sealed by a waxy ‘cuticle’ and distinctive epidermal cells such as gas pores and defensive barbs. Further improvements to these surface innovations underlie cereal performance on arid grasslands and play important roles in climate resiliency. However, we understand little about how plants, including cereals, coordinate cuticle and epidermal cell specialisations into a coherent surface.  

Excitingly, we recently discovered a core patterning pathway that may control conserved and cereal-specific epidermal development, and influence crop survival. In this project, you will advance these findings using state of the art biochemical and molecular approaches to find out how the pathway components interact and respond to environmental change. In particular, you will use CRISPR-Cas based gene editing to identify key components of the pathway, explore the role of post-translational modifications in key components and test whether variation in the pathway improves cereal performance in dry and hot environments. This project will appeal to students keen to explore plant science from molecule to field, and to contribute to crop improvement and food security.  

In doing this research, you will learn the latest molecular biology, cereal physiology and development and protein biochemistry methodsYou will be based in the McKim lab, a dynamic, productive and supportive research group studying cereal development, with additional support from Dr. Piers Hemsley, a leader in plant post-translational regulation. Our labs are based at the James Hutton Institute (JHI), a global leader in cereal genetics and genomics, and part of the International Barley Hub, a £62 million investment in cereal research. You will participate in training offered both by University of Dundee and JHI, and join a cohort of next-generation cereal scientists. In the McKim lab, we encourage students to present their work at international conferences and as part of scientific publications, as well as engage with the public to communicate our science. We warmly welcome students from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Please feel free to contact me to discuss any aspects of the project or about PhD studies in general.  

Eligibility