Do shared genetic pathways control drought tolerance and senescence in wheat?


We need to increase the production of staple crops such as wheat by 50 % by 2050 to meet the global demand for food. However, water scarcity represents a major limiting factor for crop production and poses an increasing risk to global wheat production due to climate change. In recent years drought has affected wheat yields in the UK, contributing to 2020’s harvest being the smallest for three decades. In this project we will use interdisciplinary approaches to identify new gene targets to improve drought tolerance and secure wheat yields for the future.

We have recently discovered several transcription factors which delay senescence (ageing) in wheat, which we hypothesise could provide a route to improve drought tolerance, as has been shown in other plant species. We will use a combination genetic variation studies, knock-out mutants and overexpression lines to ask whether these transcription factors can be used to improve drought tolerance. This part of the project will provide opportunities to run greenhouse and field trials in an academic and commercial research environment and gain a wide range of molecular biology skills.

A second part of the project will focus on comparing the networks of genes which regulate drought responses to those regulating senescence, to identify shared and divergent regulation at the genetic level. This part of the project will develop skills in genomic and big data analysis, thereby providing the student with an interdisciplinary skill set suitable for a wide range of future career paths.

The student will benefit from tailored training opportunities through the DTP training programme and from the outstanding scientific environment across the NRP. They will be supported by academic and industrial supervisors and work closely with members of their lab group and department.


Borrill P, Harrington SA, Simmonds J, Uauy C. 2019. Identification of transcription factors regulating senescence in wheat through gene regulatory network modelling. Plant Physiology 180: 1740-1755.

Borrill P. 2020. Blurring th eboundaries between cereal crops and model plants. New Phytol, 228: 1721-1727.

Gálvez S, Mérida-García R, Camino C, Borrill P, Abrouk M, Ramirez-Gonzalez RH, Biyiklioglu S, Amil-Ruiz F, The IWGSC, Dorado G, Budak H, Gonzalez-Dugo V, Zarco-Tejada P, Appels R, Uauy C, Hernandez P. 2019. Hotspots in the genomic architecture of field drought responses in wheat as breeding targets. Functional & Integrative Genomics.10: 295.