Understanding the role of Earth’s most abundant organosulfur molecules in the legume-Rhizobium root nodule symbiosis


Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is an anti-stress compound with key roles in global nutrient and sulfur cycling, signalling and climate.

DMSP functions as an osmoprotectant, cryoprotectant, protectant against oxidative stress and a grazing deterrent in bacteria and marina algae.

Few plants have been shown to produce DMSP and the role of this molecule in these species is unclear. However, we have recently discovered the key plant genes responsible for DMSP production and are therefore now able to determine the role of DMSP in plants.

This project will use legumes as a model system and aims to unpick the molecular pathway for DMSP production in plants and to understand how this compound impacts the symbiosis formed with rhizobia bacteria.

The student will knock-out the genes we recently identified as being involved in plant DMSP production and assess their function during nodulation.

The student will also measure expression of the genes in plants grown under different conditions using qRT-PCR. The growth and physiology of the mutants will be studied to determine if environmental factors affect their productivity and growth.

The student will also generate bacterial mutants and assess the symbiotic capability of these strains on plants.

In the modern world, the ability to produce crops in sub-optimal saline/drought ridden environments, not currently suitable for agriculture, is of high importance.
This multidisciplinary project will provide the student with training opportunities in molecular biology, microbiology, plant genetics and physiology to define the role of DMSP in the legume-Rhizobium symbiosis.


Curson et al. (2011) Nature Reviews Microbiology doi:10.1038/nrmicro2653.

Peng et al. (2022) Nature Communications doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-30491-5.

Williams et al. (2019) Nature Microbiology doi:10.1038/s41564-019-0527-1.

Todd et al. (2007) Science doi:10.1126/science.1135370.