Data science to feed a changing world: superior drought tolerance in nutritious traditional beans


The growing number of extreme weather events threatens humankind’s efforts to ensure global food security, eradicate poverty and achieve fair, sustainable societies. There is consequently a need to identify and improve staple food crop varieties that are more tolerant of climate extremes, such as drought and heat stress.

This PhD project uses cutting-edge hyperspectral imaging and genomics methods to screen the response to water deficit stress of common bean landraces from the Andes, one of their centres of origin. Common beans are the primary source of proteins and essential nutrients for a third of the world population as well as useful forage and soil fertilisers. This PhD project will help to inform bean breeding to safeguard future bean yields under climate change. The student will acquire valuable in-demand skills in data science, imaging analysis (including machine learning), and advanced bioinformatics, particularly large-scale comparative genomics and transcriptomics analyses. High-throughput screening and phenotyping will ensure the student develops core experimental skills in plant sciences, such as plant trial design, quantitative statistical analysis, etc.

This project is a collaboration between the De Vega lab at Earlham and the Chater lab at Royal Botanic Garden (RBG) Kew. The student will be part of the growing cohort of PhD students working in genomics and bioinformatics at Earlham Institute, and will be provided with opportunities to work at RBG Kew and with collaborators overseas. Earlham Institute is a research institute focused on exploring living systems by applying computational science and biotechnology, with unique top-class sequencing and computing platforms.

Chater et al. (2018). Crop biotechnology for Improving drought tolerance: targets, approaches, and outcomes. Annual Plant Reviews online, 1-40.

Higgins et al. (2020). Evidence of selection, adaptation and untapped diversity in Vietnamese rice landraces. BioRxiv, 2020.07.07.191981

Tuberosa (2012). Phenotyping for drought tolerance of crops in the genomics era. Frontiers in physiology, 3, 347.