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Uncovering the physiological and genetic control of the disorder brown heart in Swede

This project is only available to UK / home students.

Primary supervisor: Dr Laura VickersLink opens in a new window, Department of Agriculture and Environment

Non-academic partner: Elsoms Seeds Ltd

Project Title: Uncovering the physiological and genetic control of the disorder brown heart in Swede

Project description:

The UK produced 95000 tonnes of turnips and swedes in 2020 equating to a value of £34 million (Defra Horticultural Statistics, 2021). Crop discolouration at harvest or post harvest in root vegetables can lead to significant economic losses for producers (Adams and Brown, 2007), as they are less appealing for consumers (Aschemann-Witzel et al., 215). Brown heart in Swedes is a condition where the subcutaneous tissue of the crop turns brown and looks glassy. It has been linked to boron deficiencies in the soil (Smith and Anderson, 1955). However, recent work has indicated that brown heart incidence and severity are influenced by genotype (Fadhel et al., 2015), and that boron concentrations do not vary significantly between brown heart susceptible and resistant Swedes (Riordan, 2019). This indicates that the role of boron in causing brown heart, maybe determined by the genetic and or physiological control in boron concentration and distribution in plant tissue.

This project sets out to determine the underlying physiological and genetic mechanisms that determine brown heart susceptibility in Swedes, in addition explore potential agronomic practices that can mitigate against brown heart occurrence. This project is a collaborative project with the student engaging with Elsoms seeds Ltd, and working at both Harper Adams University and the University of Warwick. The student will gain an insight into industry and produce real world relevant research.

The proposed research objectives of the project are to;

  1. Establish abiotic and agronomic (cultivation) factors affecting brown heart. This will involve field trials at Harper Adams, Elsoms’ grower sites and glasshouse trials. These trials would explore the impacts of boron soil concentration, irrigation, and humidity on brown heart, as well as phenotype a known mapping population for the disorder across varying environmental conditions.
  2. Explore the physiological mechanisms underlying brown heart formation in Swede. This could involve SEM microscopy at Harper Adams, fluorescence assays and confocal microscopy at Warwick University.
  3. Explore the molecular control of brown heart between resistant and susceptible Swede lines. This would involve transcriptomics using RNA-seq of resistant and susceptible lines. Further qRT-PCR analysis of candidate gene expression. SDS-PAGE protein analysis and proteomics between resistant and susceptible lines.
  4. Identify candidate genes within the QTL loci, to inform future marker assisted selection swede breeding programs at Elsoms. This could involve using the data generated in objective 1, to build on existing QTL analysis by Elsoms in constructing updated genetic maps (at Warwick). It could lead to the generation of plasmid constructs GM/CRISPR overexpression and knockout mutants.


  1. Adams, J. B. and Brown, H. M. 2007. Discoloration in Raw and Processed Fruits and Vegetables. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 47:3, 319-333, DOI: 10.1080/10408390600762647
  2. Aschemann-Witzel J, De Hooge I, Amani P, Bech-Larsen T, Oostindjer M. Consumer-Related Food Waste: Causes and Potential for Action. Sustainability. 2015; 7(6):6457-6477. DOI:
  3. Fadhel, F., Jellings, A., Kennedy, S. and Fuller, M. 2015. Genotypic resistance to brown heart incidence in swede parent lines and F1 hybrids and the influence of applied boron. The Journal of Agricultural Science, 153 (2), 195-204. DOI:10.1017/SO021859613000889
  4. Riordan, H. E. 2019. Investigating the genetic control of boron concentrations in Brassica napus. PhD thesis, University of York. Embargoed until Nov 2022.
  5. Smith, A. M. and Anderson G. 1955. The relationship between the boron content of soils and swede roots. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Volume 6, 3 pp157-162

Contact: Dr Laura VickersLink opens in a new window, Harper Adams University

To apply see the HAU websiteLink opens in a new window