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Name of scholarship/program

Computational modelling of growth angle control across the higher plants



Important description
As part of ongoing efforts using computational and systems approaches in developmental biology we are seeking to appoint a graduate with a mathematical/computational background to study for a PhD on the control of angle of growth of lateral root and shoot branches in higher plants. The regulation of this fundamental aspect of plant form has until now been entirely mysterious: it is an under-appreciated fact that the angles at which lateral branches grow out from the main plant axis are not random but rather are highly-determined aspects of their individual developmental programmes. Indeed, if plants are rotated vertically, many lateral organs will rapidly bend so as to return to their original angle of growth with respect to gravity, a quantity known as the gravitropic setpoint angle (GSA). While the GSA of the primary root and shoot is typically approximately vertical, the GSA values of lateral shoots and roots are most often non-vertical, allowing the plant to optimise the capture of resources both above- and below-ground. This spatial regulation of GSA is manifest throughout nature in the form of characteristic species-specific patterns of GSA control, perhaps most conspicuously in the diverse branching patterns of trees. This project offers the opportunity to explore and understand these fascinating patterns of GSA regulation throughout nature within a computational framework.

The project builds on recent findings in the Kepinski lab; as well as effecting the basic gravitropic response in plants (the mechanism by which all organs to maintain their GSA), we have shown that auxin response in a single cell type specifies the GSA programme of each lateral organ. This work provides conceptual framework for understanding the specification of GSA throughout the higher plants and a starting point for the generation of computational models of GSA control. The models will be readily testable in the lab and field, allowing the student to engage directly in the iterative process of model-directed experiment (in collaboration with experimentalists in the host lab) and data-driven model refinement. They will also be constructed so that the relationship between auxin and overall plant architecture can be explored across a diversity of species, allowing the student to contrast older, descriptive models of tree branching for example, with new mechanistic and predictive models developed within the project.

The project will be supervised jointly by Dr Stefan Kepinski (School of Biology) and Prof. Netta Cohen (School of Computing) at Leeds and in conjunction with collaborators at the University of Calgary. Potential applicants are encouraged to make informal enquires by contacting Dr Stefan Kepinski by email: s.kepinski@leeds.ac.uk or phone: +44 113 343 2865


Eligibility and other criteria
(European/UK Students Only)
This research project has funding attached. Funding for this project is available to citizens of a number of European countries (including the UK). In most cases this will include all EU nationals. However full funding may not be available to all applicants and you should read the full department and project details for further information.


Application deadline
* 07 January 2013


Additional information, and important URL
4 year BBSRC studentship, under the White Rose Mechanistic Biology DTP.
The successful applicant will receive fees and stipend (c.£13590 for 2013-14). The PhD will start in Oct 2013. Applicants should have, or be expecting to receive, a 2.1 Hons degree in a relevant subject. EU candidates must have been resident in the UK for 3 years in order to receive full support.
There are 2 stages to the application process. Please see our website for more information:
www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk/gradschool/keywords/mnuFindaphd.php


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