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New PhD available in the laboratory of Gail Taylor at the University of Southampton

Interested in studying bioenergy? Professor Gail Taylor is happy to be advertising a new PhD opportunity in her group on genome editing with poplar. Check out details here.

Posted on 09 December 2015.





PhD available in the laboratory of Gail Taylor

Genome editing in poplar trees for better bioenergy
The PhD Project: The sustainable bioeconomy of the future will see a move away from energy and chemicals generated from fossil fuel oil to supply from plant-based resources such as wood from fast growing trees. Optimising the use of this biomass carbon is critical to the success of the bioeconomy. ‘Biomass carbon’ has been suggested as part of the solution to climate change, and yet there remains a significant gap between potential and actual biomass yield in such trees1. Next generation DNA sequencing is revealing the links between genes and the characteristics of interest in a natural population of black poplar trees, where we have identified 90,000 SNPs and through Genotyping by Sequencing these are being used in Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS). From this, we have found candidate genes linked to high biomass production and drought tolerance (assessed from turgor loss point and biomass) and these will be investigated further in this project. The student will use Genome Editing approaches, already reported in poplar, and investigate the impact of candidate genes for yield and drought tolerance. Alongside this, we are developing new and novel remote techniques using drones for better field phenotyping, at our field site in Italy. The successful candidate will therefore have the opportunity to develop both cutting edge molecular and field phenotyping skills, and applying these to a the grand challenge of low carbon energy for a sustainable future.

The Candidate: The PhD will provide the student with an outstanding opportunity to work with world-leading tree molecular biologists within the consortium WATBIO (, to gain a thorough training in molecular genetics, molecular biology, sustainable bioenergy crops. The ideal candidate should have at least an upper second class degree with emphasis on some of the following: molecular biology, quantitative skills, biochemistry, plant science, genetics, bioinformatics, biotechnology, although full training will be given.
Training The SPITFIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at The University of Southampton, alongside interaction with several commercial bioenergy companies. Specific training will include: training in a range of molecular, genetic and bioinformatics techniques, applied to a research question of outstanding global significance. Our European network provides a strong opportunity to interact with a wide group of multi-disciplinary scientists engaged in this project, including the field site of 6,000 trees, located in northern Italy, sampled for DNA and sequencing, molecular genetic techniques, gene network mapping using the latest software to identify critical hubs of genes as control points for complex traits for yield (biomass production) and drought tolerance (turgor loss, isotopic discrimination and leaf development). Linking this to remote sensing will be extremely novel where our aim is to identify traits that we can elucidate at the level of the gene, but are linked to strong performance in the field.

1Allwright MR and Taylor G (2015). Molecular breeding for yield enhancement in bioenergy crops. Trends in Plant Science, Accepted 2 Anne M Rae, Nathaniel R Street, Kathryn M Robinson, Nicole Harris, Gail Taylor (2009). Five QTL hotspots for yield in short rotation coppice bioenergy poplar: the poplar biomass loci, BMC Plant Biology, 9:1-23
NERC standard stipend will be paid to the candidate and fees covered. Interested candidates should email