Lady Emily Smyth Studentships

A new flagship scheme for BCAI, the Lady Emily Smyth Studentship is a prestigious award to support two outstanding scholars undertaking Masters by Research at the University of Bristol within the plant and agricultural research theme. The fully funded award covers the full cost of fees, stipend, consumables for a year, and a supplement to support dissemination.


Fee £4300
Stipend (BBSRC level) £14,777
Consumables  £4000
Dissemination support £500


UK and EU students are eligible to apply for this award using the University of Bristol's postgraduate application form. Students should indicate their preferred supervisor and that they wish to be considered for the Lady Emily Smyth Studentship. The closing date for applications is 17th April 2020. Supervisors will be asked to nominate their preferred candidate for the award and applications will be ranked by committee prior to interviews, which will be held in the week starting on the 4th May 2020.

Projects for 2020 admission

How can farming methods help to mitigate climate change?

Dr Gary Barker

Global temperatures are likely to increase by 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels by 2030-2052. Increasing land conversion to feed the growing population and growing consumption per capita add to this threat to biodiversity. How to increase food availability, whilst mitigating global warming and managing land use change, is one of the biggest questions facing humanity today. The aim of the project is to assess how farming systems can contribute to a solution. A literature survey, considering global-scale predictions alongside local impacts, will highlight stakeholders to engage with and case studies to describe, leading to real-life discussions with them and observations of their practices. Integration between research disciplines will be at the heart of this project through consideration of societal responses together with the evidence provided by science.

Function and development of superhydrophilic slippery plant surfaces

Dr Ulrike Bauer

The trapping surfaces of carnivorous pitcher plants are unusually wettable and turn extremely slippery for insects when wet. If we understand how these surfaces work and how the plants make them, they can inspire the development of more resistant, mechanically protected crop plants. Using contact angle measurements and high-speed videography, you will tease apart the effects of surface chemistry and micro-topography on wettability and water spreading. A combination of morphometrics, time-lapse video and micro-imaging will reveal the surface development inside the hollow pitcher bud. You will work with a charismatic plant and learn a broad spectrum of imaging and 3D reconstruction techniques.

Clove Production, Crop Diversity and Biodiversity

Professor Tim Caro

Cloves are central to Pemba Island, Tanzania, sometimes grown as a monoculture, but also with native and introduced species. We want to determine the effects of different ecological matrices on clove tree health and productivity using observations and retrospective interviews, and on biodiversity. This involves determining different contexts in which clove trees are grown building a quantitative database across the whole island; interviewing 100 clove-producers to determine long term productivity and health; and understanding the consequences for bird and butterfly diversity. The work is significant because successful inter-planting would mitigate food costs of land conversion and promote endemic island species.

Light control of leaf senescence

Professor Kerry Franklin

Leaf senescence reduces the quality and postharvest shelf life of crops. Delaying this process is therefore a key objective for reducing waste in the food chain. Dark-induced senescence is promoted by a group of transcription factors termed PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTORS (PIFs). The abundance and activity of PIFs is controlled by light perceived by plant photoreceptors. The objective of this project is to investigate how targeted manipulation of PIF abundance using light treatments can be used to delay dark-induced leaf senescence in Arabidopsis thaliana and a range of horticultural species. The student will receive training in plant physiology and molecular biology.

Identifying DNA sequences in crops with the potential to reduce soil erosion

Professor Claire Grierson

We wish to understand how plants help hold roots and soil together. This is important because crops have major effects on soil erosion rates and the fertility of land in cultivation. The selection and use of crop plants that are better able to hold soils together is a key goal of sustainable agriculture. Using forward and reverse genetics and proteomics, we have identified 2-3000 candidate genes affecting soil erosion. We have prioritised 60 of these genes based on the abundance of their gene products in Arabidopsis root exudates and the strength of mutant phenotypes. We now wish to identify related genes in crop species.

The gene regulatory logic of plant stem cell function

Dr Jill Harrison

Plant shape is patterned by the activity of stem cells in the growing shoot tips and is a major productivity and yield determinant. The size of the stem cell pool in Arabidopsis is kept constant as plants grow by the activity of a genetic circuit comprising small peptides, their receptors, and a downstream transcription factor. The hormonal environment of cells in the shoot apex is also important in regulating stem cell activity. This project aims to interrogate the fundamental requirements for plant stem cell function by testing interactions between components of the gene regulatory networks for stem cell function in a moss model, Physcomitrella.

Map the gap – making palm oil more sustainable by mapping yield gaps across tropical landscapes

Dr Tommaso Jucker

When it comes to producing vegetable oil, oil palm is king. Up to 10 times more productive than rival crops, today oil palm accounts for one third of the global supply of fats and oils.
However, this reliance on oil palm has come at a steep environmental price, as vast tracks of tropical rainforest have been cleared to grow it. Moreover, oil palm plantations are often not as productive as they could be, suggesting that it should be possible to grow oil palm both more profitably and sustainably using less land. This project will use cutting-edge remote sensing technologies to map under which conditions oil palm grows best, and where instead restoring forests could prove a viable economic alternative.

Re-engineering peroxisome movement in plants

Dr Imogen Sparkes

The growing global population requires the development of novel strategies to sustainably increase food production. Organelle movement is dynamic and linked to changes in cell size, plant biomass and in response to factors which affect food production such as pathogens. However, the molecular mechanisms regulating organelle movement and their effect on cell growth are poorly understood. This project will identify the molecular components driving organelle movement, with a focus on peroxisomes. Experiments will re-engineer peroxisome movement with a view to determining how changes in movement affect cell size. The project will provide training in plant imaging, cell biology and molecular biology.

General Enquiries

All general and funding enquiries should be directed to Dr Helen Harper

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