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Does heat stress modify the physiological and molecular responses of droughted wheat to film antitranspirant?

Primary Supervisor: Professor Peter Kettlewell, Harper Adams University - HAU

Secondary supervisor: Dr Philippa Borrill, University of Birmingham - UoB

PhD project title: Does heat stress modify the physiological and molecular responses of droughted wheat to film antitranspirant?

University of Registration: Harper Adams University

Project outline:

Drought and heat both reduce wheat yield and are becoming more frequent with climate change. Drought and heat are associated at low latitudes because precipitation and temperature are negatively correlated in these regions, but the correlation is less strong at mid latitudes e.g. the UK, where cool droughts can often occur.

One emerging technology for reducing water stress and drought damage to yield is film antitranspirant (AT) application to crops. ATs are polymers which reduce transpiration from leaves, and by conserving water at critical stages of development can reduce damage to yield (Mphande et al., 2020). Much of the published research on the efficacy of AT on wheat is, however, from the UK where the cooling effect of transpiration on leaves is less important than in countries at lower latitudes, where drought is more strongly associated with heat. A frequent comment on the published AT research is that in lower latitude countries AT will exacerbate heat stress and thus negate any benefit of reduced water stress.

Thus the aim of this project is to understand the physiological and molecular basis of interactions between water and heat stresses in wheat plants treated with AT.

The detailed objectives and experiments will be developed following a thorough review of the literature, but at this stage probable objectives could include:

  1. To identify from the literature the possible physiological and molecular mechanisms by which heat stress could modify the responses of water-stressed wheat to AT.

  2. To determine with thermal imaging the plant organs most affected by elevated temperature in plants exposed to heat stress, water stress and AT separately and in combination.

  3. To explore the possible physiological mechanisms by which heat stress could modify the responses of water-stressed wheat to AT in the most-affected plant organ identified from Objective 2.

  1. To examine transcriptome responses in target tissues selected from the literature and from thermal imaging.

  2. To target loci selected on combined evidence from literature and transcriptomics for functional characterisation with mutant lines.

These objectives will be tested in controlled environment cabinets and also in polythene tunnels in the field at HAU to simulate a field crop as closely as possible. Molecular and bioinformatic work will be undertaken at UoB.

References:

  • Mphande, W., Kettlewell, P.S., Grove, I.G. and Farrell, A.D. (2020). The potential of antitranspirants in drought management of arable crops: A review. Agricultural Water Management 236, 106143 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378377419316282

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Sustainable Agriculture and Food: Plant and Crop Science

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

The student will gain experience of:

At HAU - managing water stress and heat stress experiments, and measurements of soil water, plant water status, thermal imaging, yield components and other physiological measures as identified from the literature search e.g. chlorophyll fluorescence.

At UoB – molecular biology including RNA and DNA extraction, genotyping and qPCR. Bioinformatics and genomics to include analysis of RNA-seq data. Developing and characterising mutant knock-outs using the sequenced wheat TILLING mutant populations.

Contact: Professor Peter Kettlewell, Harper Adams University