PhD Studentship: How do plants sense iron?

University of East Anglia - Biological Sciences

Start Date: 1st October 2017
No. of positions available: 1
Supervisor: Dr Janneke Balk

Project description: Iron is an essential element for most living organisms, however it is also toxic in its free form inside the cell. This is because the wonderful redox properties of iron, which make it such a good enzyme catalyst, also help to generate harmful oxygen radicals.

All organisms including plants have evolved elaborate mechanisms to regulate the uptake, transport, storage and use of iron. This regulatory process requires the ability to sense the intracellular iron concentration. While iron signalling is well studied in bacteria, fungi and animals, neither the iron sensing protein(s) nor the iron sensing mechanism are known in plants.

To address this major gap in our knowledge, we have recently generated promoter-luciferase constructs that report iron deficiency by ‘glowing in the dark’ well before any visible signs of iron deficiency such as chlorosis. A mutant screen will be carried out for plants that miss-regulate the expression of the luciferase reporter in response to iron. The mutations will be identified by Next Generation Sequencing and confirmed by genetic complementation, in the lab of Dr Janneke Balk at the John Innes Centre. Corresponding proteins with iron binding motifs will be selected for further biochemical studies in the laboratory of Prof Nick Le Brun, at the University of East Anglia.

The project provides a broad learning experience, from whole plant biology to protein function. The student will also benefit from international collaborations and conferences. New knowledge on the iron sensing mechanism in plants is important for sustainable agriculture and would open up the possibility of enhancing the mineral content of crops to help address the global problem of iron deficiency, which affects >30% of the world’s population.

Person specification: Minimum entry 2:1

Funding notes:

Full Studentships cover a stipend (RCUK rate: £14,296pa - 2016/7), research costs and tuition fees at UK/EU rate, and are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.

Students from EU countries who do not meet the UK residency requirements may be eligible for a fees-only award. Students in receipt of a fees-only award will be eligible for a maintenance stipend awarded by the NRPDTP Bioscience Doctoral Scholarships, which when combined will equal a full studentship. To be eligible students must meet the EU residency requirements. Details on eligibility for funding on the BBSRC website:

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