We are currently advertising National Productivity Investment Fund Industrial CASE studentships with a deadline of the 16th July 2018.

02 / 10 / 2017

Can longer and wider cells help feed the world? (UAUY_J18DTP1)

how to apply

Crop production must increase to meet the demands of a global population estimated to exceed nine billion by 2050. To achieve this goal, it is estimated that at least a 50% increase in crop production is required, however current rates of yield increase are insufficient. It is therefore critical and urgent that we identify ways to increase crop yields.

We are studying three genes in wheat that affect the weight of individual grains. Our results show that these genes affect either the width or the length of the grain by 3-4%. This might not sound like much but it translates into 500 extra loaves of bread in every hectare sown with wheat! Recently, we showed that one of these genes affects cell expansion, leading to longer cells which in turn makes longer and heavier grain (Brinton et al 2017 New Phytologist). Preliminary results from the other genes suggest they affect cell division and thus make wider (and heavier) grains. We hypothesize that combining genes that control these distinct biological mechanisms (cell expansion and division) will enhance crop yields. In other words: Can longer and wider cells increase yield and help feed the world?

The aim of this PhD project will be to investigate the effects of increased cell division and expansion on ovary/grain size in wheat. We will aim to determine the combined effects of cell expansion and division on final grain size and yield using microscopy, image analysis and development studies. We will also identify candidate genes controlling ovary and early grain development based on co-expression networks and next-generation sequencing data.

The student will learn to combine molecular biology, genetics, genomics and image analysis to understand the underlying biology of crop plants and its relevance for agriculture.