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The genetics of mechanics in plants

Principal Supervisor: Professor George Bassel - School of Biosciences

Co-supervisor: Zhibing Zhang

PhD project title: The genetics of mechanics in plants

University of Registration: University of Birmingham

Project outline:

Plants grow following mechanical forces they generate. Two opposing forces are present: the internal turgor pressure of the cell, and the restraint imposed by the surrounding cell wall. The way in which plant cells expand in by weakening the mechanical properties of their cell wall which facilitates turgor-based cellular deformation.

Genes which encode enzymes that weaken its mechanical properties of the cell wall have been identified previously, and can be called cell wall remodelling enzymes (CWREs). As the cell wall is complex, consisting of multiple interacting carbohydrate and protein components, there are many different classes of CWREs.

Many CWREs have been previously characterized, while the role of others in controlling plant cell expansion are less well understood. This lack of knowledge as to how the activity of genes encoding CWREs affect plant mechanics represents a key gap in our understanding of plant growth.

This project will make use of transgenic plants to investigate the impact CWREs have on the mechanical properties of plant cells. Individual CWREs will be induced in using targeted transgenic plants, and mechanical measurements of plant growth will be performed using measured using micromanipulation techniques developed at the School of Chemical Engineering, University of Birmingham. This will link the role of CWREs to their ability to change the biomechanical properties of plant cells.

The project will focus on the control of seed germination which represents the starting point for the vast majority of world agriculture. Improving the vigour with seeds germinate represent a key objective of the £52 billion global seed industry (Finch-Savage and Bassel (2015) Journal of Experimental Botany).

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Food Security

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

Generation of transgenic plants, measurement of gene expression, measurement of growth and extensive use of devices for the measurement of the biomechanical properties of plant cells and organs.

Contact: Professor George Bassel, University of Birmingham