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Rapid rooting vegetables for a challenging environment – molecular and physiological analysis of rapid rooting traits in lettuce.

This project is only available to UK / home students.

Primary supervisor: Professor Jim Monaghan, Department of Agriculture and Environment

Non-academic partner: Syngenta

Project Title: Rapid rooting vegetables for a challenging environment – molecular and physiological analysis of rapid rooting traits in lettuce

Project description:

We need to breed crops that are resilient to climate change. Crops which quickly establish root systems can access soil resources and will have improved resilience to combined abiotic stresses (e.g. Johnson et al., 2000) and root traits are becoming of intense interest in respect to sustainable intensification of production systems.

The Monaghan group at HAU developed a phenotyping assay for lettuce root architecture and identified 16 QTL for rapid rooting traits in a lettuce RIL population (Roberts et al., 2020). Targeted transcriptome analysis identified nine candidate genes with known functions in cell expansion, proliferation and cell wall synthesis. The majority of differentially expressed transcripts were not located under the QTL and have yet to be identified. The Gifford lab at Warwick studies the plasticity of root architecture and responses to abiotic stress conditions (e.g. Martínez-Andújar et al., 2021). They also have expertise in investigating the regulation of QTLs using transcriptomic and genetic methods (e.g. Gifford et al., 2013, and in modelling root developmental processes (e.g. in lettuce, Carroll et al., 2020). Combining these approaches enables us to both study the cause and effect of rapid rooting.

The project will use a multidisciplinary combination of genetic, genomic and physiology methods to characterise the mechanism enabling rapid rooting in leafy vegetables and associated plant establishment, using lettuce as a model transplant raised crop. Our hypothesis is that genes associated with rapid rooting traits in lettuce improve plant establishment across a range of environments and growing systems. It is this area that the student will address, leading to novel observations on the physiological and genetic basis of the desired traits – which will be key to plant breeders and plant scientists working to adapt crop production to an increasingly changing climate.

Building on existing data, ready to exploit, the student will work at both HAU and UoW to:

  1. a) optimise existing rooting assays for different substrates and plant material.
  2. b) identify genes of interest from the available transcriptome linked to rapid rooting traits in extreme lines.
  3. c) phenotypically screen a lettuce diversity panel to search for natural variation in root traits associated with genes of interest and utilise molecular techniques including qRT-PCR and RNAseq to identify targeted genes (e.g. regulating hormone pathways, cell expansion).
  4. d) generate experimental lines using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing of rapid rooting trait candidate genes using the new Warwick horticultural crop transformation facility.
  5. e) grow extreme lines and gene-edited lines to establish the effect of these genes on plant establishment and subsequent growth of lettuce in a range of relevant horticultural environments and climate scenarios using phenotypic and molecular analysis.

Contact: Professor Jim MonaghanLink opens in a new window, Harper Adams University

To apply see the HAU websiteLink opens in a new window