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Engineering plants tolerant to high temperatures

Primary Supervisor: Professor Vardis Ntoukakis, School of Life Sciences

Secondary supervisor: Professor Miriam Gifford

PhD project title: Engineering plants tolerant to high temperatures

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

Engineering plant responses to external conditions such as environmental extremes can result in significant improvements in crop yields and help us ensure food production. Application of engineering concepts via synthetic biology in plants has not been explored as much as in bacterial systems but holds a great potential to engineer high performing plants.

Pathogenic and mutualistic microbes secrete proteins into their host, effectors, to manipulate plant responses. This project builds on previous work exploiting these effectors to develop novel tools for engineering plant responses. A comprehensive screen of more that 700 effectors has identified multiple effectors from the oomycete pathogen Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis that enhance plant tolerance to high temperatures.

The aim of this project is to validate and characterize effectors that enhance plant tolerance to high temperatures. The student will initially validate the phenotypes of the already generated Arabidopsis thaliana lines expressing the identified effectors. In parallel the student will perform immunoprecipitations of the effectors and mass spectrometry in order to identify their interacting partners and transcriptomics to identify genes that are differentially expressed in the effector lines that contribute to the enchased heat tolerance. The combined analysis of the proteomic and transcriptomic data along with the phenotypic characterization of the lines will allow us to validate the observed phenotypes and obtain a molecular understanding of the mechanism underlying the enhanced heat tolerance of the effector expressing plants.

After the initial characterisation using Arabidopsis thaliana plants, we will expand our investigation to tomato and brassica plants by generating transgenic plants expressing the effectors and by using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to create mutants of the effector interacting partners.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Sustainable Agriculture and Food: Plant and Crop Science & Understanding the Rules of Life: Plant Science

    Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

    The successful students will use cutting edge techniques including RNA-seq, proteomics and confocal microscopy together with statistical analysis and modelling to gain insight into the mechanism use by effectors to alter plant homeostasis. After the initial characterisation using Arabidopsis thaliana plants, we will expand our investigation to tomato and brassica plants using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing.

    Contact: Professor Vardis Ntoukakis, University of Warwick