Drone-based analysis of the molecular basis of rapeseed growth vigour


As we transition to a more sustainable farming system we need to find ways to grow crops with fewer inputs of pesticides which can have harmful environmental side effects. An important way to achieve this is to improve growth rates so that crops grow faster than they can be consumed by insect pests, instead of using chemicals to kill pests.

The UK oilseed rape crop relies on fast growth to outrun flea beetle herbivory during early growth now that neonictotinamide seed treatments are banned. But nobody understands biological mechanisms controlling growth vigour and vigour is still measured subjectively during walk arounds by breeders. In this project you will use laboratory and drone imaging methods for measuring oilseed rape growth rates to identify the different components of growth vigour and how they vary between different varieties.

The latest genomic techniques will be used to identify genes which control growth vigour and to probe the mechanism by which growth rates vary between varieties.
The new knowledge could be used to improve the accuracy of vigour measurements used to assess varieties for the UK market, and identify genes that might be useful for breeding varieties with faster growth.

A background in plant science, genetics, and an interest in field work, drone flying, genomics and computational image analysis would be ideal. However, applicants with relevant skills from computational disciplines are also encouraged to apply.

Full training is available as part of the PhD programme.

The project would suit a student interested in a career in crop science, plant breeding or computational biology.


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Yield instability of winter oilseed rape modulated by early winter temperature. Brown JKM, Beeby R, Penfield S.Sci Rep. 2019 May 6;9(1):6953. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-43461-7.

Growth rate regulation is associated with developmental modification of source efficiency. Pullen N, Zhang N, Dobon Alonso A, Penfield S.Nature Plants. 2019 Feb;5(2):148-152. doi: 10.1038/s41477-018- 0357-9.