University of Dundee

EASTBIO:The Generation Gap –understanding tissue communication during grain 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.

Supervisors: Dr Sarah McKim, Dr Jorunn Bos (UoD), and Prof Matt Tucker (University of Adelaide).

Cereal grain provides more calories to our food supply than any other source. Cereal grain is also a critical feedstock for malting and brewing. Despite this, we know little about how a cereal grain develops. In the McKim lab, we use barley as a model cereal to learn about the genes controlling grain development, with our overall aim to improve grain yield and quality.The grain contains an embryo and endosperm, both filial tissues, which are surrounded by nutritive maternal tissues (1). During development, maternal tissues degrade as the endosperm enlarges by accumulating large reserves of starch. The embryo, endosperm and maternal tissues communicate with each other to coordinate this process (1,2). We recently discovered that defects in a transcription factor-encoding gene changes the extent and timing of maternal elimination, dramatically altering endosperm size and shape. In this project, your objective is to find out how this gene controls maternal tissue development and grain dimensions.To address this objective, you will use state-of-the-art imaging technologies and transcriptomic profiling to understand how this gene alters maternal tissue and endosperm cell division and expansion and gene expression. You will also use and develop hormone reporter lines to assess how this gene may influence hormone signalling across grain tissues. We will also exploit existing mutants and CRISPR-Cas gene editing technologies to study upstream and downstream regulators of this gene. While based in our lab at the University of Dundee at the James Hutton Institute, you will execute this project in close collaboration with the research group of Assistant Professor Matt Tucker at the University of Adelaide, Australia. As part of this collaboration, you will spend time in Prof Tucker’s lab in Adelaide. From this work, you will learn advanced approaches in crop genomics, transcriptomics and imaging as well as exploit the latest tools in developmental crop genetics. As part of the McKim lab, you will be expected to presentat conferences and engage with the public about your work. You will participate in post-graduate training in generic skills will 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.

This project would best suit a student who has a passion for research and relishes independence and new experiences. The ideal candidate will also be keen to contribute to group efforts within the McKim lab. This PhD project will give the successful candidate transferrable lab skills, experience in crop development research and exposure to a highly stimulating research environment.

(1) Baroux C, Grossniklaus U. Seeds-An evolutionary innovation underlying reproductive success in flowering plants. Current topics in developmental biology. 2019;131:605-42.

(2) Doll N.M., Depe`ge-Fargeix N., Rogowsky P.M., and Widiez T.(2017). Signaling in Early Maize KernelDevelopment. Mol. Plant.10, 375–388