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Integration of environmental signals in plants

Principal Supervisor: Professor George Bassel

Secondary Supervisor(s): Professor Miriam Gifford

University of Registration: University of Warwick

BBSRC Research Themes:

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Deadline: 4 January, 2024

Project Outline

Plants use a diversity of signals from the environment to make decisions during their life cycle. This project will focus on understanding how multiple signals from the environment are integrated to control seed dormancy. This trait determines where and when plants are established, and enabling their movement through time and space.

Following their development, seeds remain dormant in the soil. Here they receive a variety of cues from their environment, including light temperature and nutrients, which are used to inform their decision when to germinate. This represents a system where multiple inputs (light, temperature, nutrients) converge into a single output (dormancy/germination). This process is not unlike the decision of a student to pursue this project, whereby multiple factors are considered before making a single yes/no decision (Bassel (2016) Trends in Plant Science). Understanding this complex logic in plants remains enigmatic.

This PhD project will identify molecular pathways used by seeds to integrate signals from the environment. The student will identify and characterize the molecular factors which directly regulate these targets through the analysis of both genome-wide network models (Bassel et al, 2011 PNAS; Bassel et al. 2011, Plant Cell) and targeted molecular screens (Bassel et al, 2012, Plant Cell).

The student will learn how to generate gene regulatory networks to identify candidate genes, and experimentally validate these hypotheses using a combination of molecular biology, bioinformatics, generation of transgenic plants, plant physiology and computational approaches.

The final phase of the project will use identified signal integration factors and a synthetic biology approach to re-engineer seed responses to the environment. These pathways will be “rewired” such that their behaviour is altered in targeted ways. The development of this technology is of critical importance in light of the need for food security during rapid climate change.

Seeds are the direct source of 70% of the world's calorie intake, and are the starting point for the vast majority of world agriculture. The significance of this this project lies with the enhancement of crop establishment and food security.

Applicants need no prior experience, just a willingness to learn.


Molecular biology, plant growth analysis and transformation, computer analyses of gene expression and network design.