Supercharging wheat: using genetics to increase grain iron content


Wheat is a staple crop for billions of people worldwide but has low iron content. This contributes to iron deficiency which affects millions of pepole globally and is associated with anaemia and child mortality.

Improving the iron content of wheat using genetics would be a sustainable way to improve health around the world.

In this project we will use interdisciplinary approaches to identify new genes to increase iron content and provide nutritious wheat for the future. We will take two complementary approaches 1) screening mutant wheat lines for high iron content and 2) targeting iron transport genes.

We have screened a mutant wheat population and identified lines with 4x higher grain iron content than control lines.

We will use a combination of genetic mapping and next-generation sequencing to identify the genes underlying the high iron content and validate their function using knock-out mutants and gene editing.

The second part of the project will expand our knowledge about iron transport genes operating in the wheat grain.

We will use high-resolution spatial transcriptomics to identify genes with high expression levels in key transport tissues such as the aleurone. We will test whether these genes can transport iron using heterologous expression in yeast and explore their role in iron accumulation in wheat using knock-out mutants, gene editing and over expression lines.

The student will develop a wide range of skills including molecular biology, gene editing, genomics and greenhouse experimentation.
The project will provide the student with an interdisciplinary skill set suitable for a wide range of future career paths. They will also benefit from tailored training opportunities through the DTP training programme and from the outstanding scientific environment across the NRP.


Ali, M.W. and Borrill, P. 2020. Applying genomic resources to accelerate wheat biofortification. Heredity 125, 386– 395.

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