Plant responses to stress, metabolites for health and fuel from cell walls

  • Self Funded
  • Egham, England
  • Posted 5 months ago
  • Deadline: Open All Year Round

Project Description

Projects are available in the following areas:

Stress responses in crops and sustainable biomass production and processing
The project aims at elucidating several aspects of the control of plant defences and to identify environmentally friendly forms of plant protectants, leading to enhanced crop yields.
Host processes and components required for the reproduction of plant microbes to uncouple stress-induced growth in plants are studied to open up the possibility to engineer crops to gain ‘natural immunity’. Host processes linked with microbial growth to uncover cellular and metabolic changes associated with their demands will be elucidated (Noir et al, 2013, Plant Physiology 161: 1930-1951).
This research will also further our understanding of biomass production and its regulation in response to stress to improve cell wall accessibility in biofuel feedstocks (Cook C, Devoto A, 2011, J Sci Food Agr, 91:1729-1732). The project will use high-throughput functional genomics including molecular and cell biology techniques as well as bioinformatics.

Analysis of chromatin remodelling increase fitness potential of plants during stress responses
Understanding the mechanism by which chromatin remodelling and/or hormone signalling components work in regulating cell growth in response to the stress, will contribute to increase fitness potential (and biomass accumulation) of plants during stress, a critical issue for a sustainable agriculture development. Using high-throughput functional genomics, the role of newly identified molecular components of jasmonate (JA)-mediated stress and development (Noir et al, 2013, Plant Physiology 161: 1930-1951; Balbi and Devoto, 2008, New Phytologist, 177: 301-318) will be established. This project will contribute to identifying the link between plant growth and responses to stress and will lead to the discovery of regulators with the potential to engineer stress signalling pathways. The knowledge accumulated here will be applied to crops.

Novel biotechnological routes to discovering phytopharmaceuticals in plants
The plant hormone jasmonic acid induces the biosynthesis of defence proteins and protective secondary metabolites. Pathways with potential for the production of therapeutic drugs will be manipulated with the dual aim of developing a greater understanding of the metabolism involved, that is often related to plant defence, and to develop small molecules or precursors for new medicines. Success in manipulating the targeted metabolic pathways will be analyzed through a novel functional screening system. The analysis of diverse plant lines will improve the understanding of key pathways leading to the production of economically important compounds acting as toxins, antimalarial, or antineoplastic drugs in planta. The project offers the opportunity to become familiar with approaches and techniques of wide applicability such as functional genomics and transcriptomics as well as molecular biology and protein engineering.

Projects are suitable for Biology graduates and for those with interest in Bioinformatics. For further information about the studentship contact , telephone 01784 443184.


• Noir S, Bömer M, Takahashi N, Ishida T, Tjir-Li T, Balbi V, Shanahan H, Sugimoto K And Devoto A (2013) Jasmonate controls leaf growth by repressing cell proliferation and the onset of endoreduplication while maintaining a potential stand-by mode. Plant Physiology 161 (4) 1930-1951
• Cook C, Devoto A: Fuel from plant cell walls: recent developments in second generation bioethanol research. J Sci Food Agr 2011, 91:1729-1732.
• Spanu et al (2010) Genome Expansion and Gene Loss in Powdery Mildew Fungi Reveal Tradeoffs in Extreme Parasitism. Science 330: 1543-1546
• Memelink J (2009) Regulation of gene expression by jasmonate hormones. Phytochemistry, 70:1560-1570
• Peebles CAM, Hughes EH, Shanks JV, and San K-Y. (2009) Transcriptional response of the terpenoid indole alkaloid pathway to the overexpression of orca3 along with jasmonic acid elicitation of Catharanthus roseus hairy roots over time. Metab Eng, 11:76-86
• Balbi V, Devoto A (2008) Jasmonate signalling network in Arabidopsis thaliana: crucial regulatory nodes and new physiological scenarios. New Phytologist, 177: 301-318
• Cook CM, Daudi A, Millar DJ, Bindschedler LV, Khan S, Bolwell GP, Devoto A: (2012) Transcriptional changes related to secondary wall formation in xylem of transgenic lines of tobacco altered for lignin or xylan content which show improved saccharification. Phytochemistry, 74:79-89.

To apply for this PhD, please use the following application link: