MSc By Research

The Centre accepts applications all year round for its MSc by Research programme. The academic staff listed below are offering the following projects.

CPS MSc Projects Applications accepted all year round
Christine Foyer Unravelling the Faba bean genome £10,000
We have generated a number of genomic resources in the important diploid legume crop broad bean (Vicia faba), but currently these provide only a fragmented view of the genome due to its massive size (~13 Gb). The project will involve generating long read DNA-seq on the PacBio Sequel platform, and will include the optimisation of existing DNA extraction techniques for Vicia faba to maximise read lengths, hybrid assembly of the genome and the use of existing community resources to map the generated scaffolds to chromosomal locations.
Christine Foyer Unravelling the Faba bean transcriptome £10,000
We have generated a number of transcriptomic resources in the important diploid legume crop broad bean (Vicia faba), under agronomically relevant stress conditions. The project will involve generating long read ISO-seq data on the PacBio Sequel platform to improve the coverage and annotation of the nascent Vicia faba transcriptome, to identify novel splice variants of key genes and to enhance the value of existing RNA-seq experiments.
Katie Field Can symbiotic fungi play a role in future food security? £0
Many key crop species have been shown to be able to form mutualistic symbioses with mycorrhiza-forming fungi. Through these associations, plants assimilate fungal-acquired mineral nutrients from beyond root depletion zones. In return, plants supply fungal partners with carbohydrates fixed through photosynthesis. However, fungal partner identity, their influence on agricultural rhizospheres and how they will respond to a changing climate in the future are critical outstanding knowledge gaps. This project will shed new light on how key crops and mycorrhizal fungi interact and help us define the role of soil fungi in securing food supplies of the future.
Katie Field How did symbiotic fungi help plants establish and diversify on early Earth? £0
Plant-fungal symbioses date back to when plants first colonized Earth's landmasses more than 475 million years ago. Various lines of evidence suggest the earliest land plants formed symbioses with fungi, similar to modern mycorrhizas. However, the role of fungi in subsequent plant diversification and transition from non-vascular to vascular life forms remains unknown. Mycorrhizas in the closest living ancestors of the earliest vascular land plants could provide critical clues to further understanding of this critical transitional period but remain almost completely unstudied. This project will address this by determining symbiotic function and responses to abiotic variation in early vascular plant-fungal symbioses.
Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso The importance of channelling molecular factors via plasmodesmata £4,000
Cell-to-cell communication is necessary to coordinate plant growth in a changing environment. Channels bridging the cell-wall called plasmodesmata provide a pathway for intercellular transport of developmental regulators such as transcription factors and RNA molecules. The student would focus on characterizing signals and cellular components that regulate plasmodesmata and, thereby, affecting plant responses to environmental cues.
Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso Structural and biological outcomes of changing the accumulation of callose biopolymers £4,000
The cell wall polysaccharide callose has emerged as a main regulator of plant development. Our lab is undertaking a cross-disciplinary approach to understand the physical and structural properties of callose underlying its biological function. The student will dissect callose interacting components and investigate how they modulate callose effects in different cell types/ environmental systems.
Tom Bennett Strigolactone signalling and evolution £2,000
Strigolactones are key hormonal regulators of plant development, but their signalling pathway is only partially understood, and it probable that there are as yet undiscovered perception mechanisms. The student will utilise Leeds' unique range of structural biology facilities to gain new insights into the mechanisms of strigolactone signalling, with a particular emphasis on understanding how strigolactone perception has evolved in land plants.
Tom Bennett Yield enhancement in UK crops £0
Agricultural productivity needs to steeply increase over the next 30 years to feed the burgeoning world population, but is currently static. Precision farming systems in the UK currently capture large amounts of farm-by-farm agronomic data, but little broader use is made of this data. This project will use a rich set of data from farms entering the 'Yield Enhancement Network' scheme to try to identify factors that correlate with increased yield and maximized yield potential. The student will perform a meta-analysis of the agronomic data to identify candidate management factors, and then design a field trial around this for the forthcoming growing season. They will then perform experiments in the lab environment to specifically test these ideas, and assess which factors contribute to yield.
Andrew Cuming Comparative functional genomics of dehydration stress tolerance £5,000
The ability to survive dehydration was a key adaptation that enabled plants to grow on land. Land plant responses to dehydration are coordinated by the hormone, abscisic acid (ABA) through an ancient cellular signal transduction pathway. This project will use genetic complementation of dehydration-sensitive mutants of the model bryophyte, Physcomitrella patens, deficient in ABA-signalling genes, to identify homologies between land plants and their ancestors - the aquatic algae. The project will use gene-targeted transformation of P. patens and RNA-seq transcriptome analysis, providing a thorough training in state of the art genomic analysis.
Chris West Improving nitrogen use efficiency in transgenic wheat plants £5,000
Production of nitrogen-based fertilizers accounts for 1-2% of the world's energy use and is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Modern crop plants have been developed for optimum growth on fertilizers but more sustainable solutions are needed. This project will analyse the effects of expression transporter proteins for organic nitrogen compounds (peptides) on the growth performance of wheat grown on different soil types. Growth parameters will be correlated with expression analysis of the transgene to determine whether peptide transport in roots improves crop yields and reduces crop demand for fertilizers.
Chris West The new era of genome editing: CRISPR-Cas9 and gene targeting in plants £5,000
CRISPR-Cas9 has unparalleled potential to revolutionise biology, from medical applications (genetic disease, cancer and pathogens) to agriculture (a new generation of precision crops). In this project you will determine what genetic factors are required for CRISPR-Cas9 mediated gene targeting in plants. This project will provide an excellent grounding in molecular biology, plant transformation and microscopy.
Brendan Davies Evolution through co-repressor recruitment £4,000
When land plants evolved from aquatic algae 500 million years ago, they evolved specific innovations that allowed them to exploit their new terrestrial environment. In this project you will look back in time at two of these crucial evolutionary events, the inventions of three-dimensional growth and complex meristems. You will test our hypothesis that these two world-changing innovations came about because the same, ancient, pre-existing regulatory module was independently hijacked. You will use molecular biology and genetics to understand the role of the TPL co-repressor in the switch to 3D growth and meristem formation in plants, using Arabidopsis and/or moss as model organisms.
Peter Urwin Functional characterisation of effector proteins from plant parasitic nematodes £0
Plant parasitic nematodes have evolved complex biotrophic interactions with their hosts. Secretions from nematode glands, containing effector proteins, are introduced into root cells via the nematode stylet and elicit profound changes in plant gene expression and cell structure, leading to the suppression of host defences and the formation of a specialised feeding site. This project will identify putative novel effectors from transcriptome sequences of the false-root knot nematode, clone the predicted genes and use a range of techniques to characterise their function.

The CPS Postgraduate Training Environment

Our research is organised into fourteen distinct project groups each led by a member of the academic staff. As the groups occupy contiguous laboratory space and have both shared and complementary interests the environment of CPS as a whole offers postgraduates an opportunity to learn laboratory skills from a range of experienced research workers. All students participate in programmes run at the level of the Faculty of Biological Sciences designed to develop wider aspects of research and transferable skills. Two annual CPS symposia provide a forum for scientific exchange and development of presentation skills. Other courses on subjects relating to the wider culture of science such as intellectual property rights, ethics, time management, careers and IT skills are also available on the Leeds campus. Full-time training for postgraduate students is provided within active research groups. Typically, there are around 20 postgraduate students from the UK & overseas studying for research degrees in CPS.

Entry Requirements for Research Degrees

A good honours degree in a relevant science discipline such as molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, biotechnology, botany or chemistry. Applicants for Research Council studentships must be able to satisfy the eligibility criteria for a Research Council award.

Contact prospective supervisors to discuss projects, but please note that applications cannot be considered unless you apply formally through the graduate office.

Click here for a direct link to the application form.

If you have any questions either about the application process, or about requirements and eligibility for study within the Faculty, please contact:

Martha Smith
Administrative Officer (PGR Admissions)
Graduate School
Faculty of Biological Sciences
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT
Tel: +44(0)113 343 8186

Visit the Faculty's Postgraduate Home