Lady Emily Smyth MScR Studentships

The Lady Emily Smyth Studentship is a prestigious award to support two scholars undertaking Masters by Research at the University of Bristol. Funded by the Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation, the award will cover the full cost of fees, stipend and consumables for a year, with a supplement to support dissemination.

Award

Fee £4,596 
Stipend (UKRI level) £16,062
Research support £4,500

Applications

Applications are now closed.

UK 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 MScR Studentship. The closing date for applications is 31 January 2022. 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 on 16 March 2022.

The Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation embraces an inclusive workplace culture and encourages qualified candidates from all backgrounds to apply.

Projects for 2022 admission

Developing multifunctional flower strips to aid parasitoid cold stress tolerance and enhance natural biological control in cereal crops

Dr Lucy Alford
As a consequence of warming winters, many beneficial insects are no longer entering into a winter diapause and are instead remaining winter active. This is rendering beneficial insects increasingly susceptible to winter conditions, particularly during a time when food sources are scarce, with implications for the beneficial ecosystem services they provide. One such insect that is increasingly winter-active are the parasitoid wasps of the genus Aphidius. These parasitoids play a vital role in agricultural systems as a natural enemy of cereal aphid pests. Using Aphidius wasps as a study organism, the proposed project will investigate the potential for cultivated winter flowering plants as a supplementary food (nectar) source to boost Aphidius cold stress tolerance and thus winter survival. Ultimately the project will contribute towards the development of multifunctional flower strips to boost beneficial insect biodiversity in agricultural landscapes and enhance the vital ecosystem services they provide.

Quantifying hail resistance in crop plants

Dr Ulrike Bauer
In times of changing climate, extreme weather events are becoming increasingly frequent. Hail storms can cause considerable damage to crops and horticultural plants; however, not all plants are equally affected. Identifying and understanding the adaptations that enable some plants to survive hail impacts relatively unscathed will be key to breeding crops that are fit for the future. This project aims to 1) characterize and quantify leaf damage from simulated hail impacts in a range of crop plants, and 2) identify leaf traits and impact responses that confer an increased damage resistance. The project builds on an ongoing PhD project on leaf-rain interactions in our lab (https://mechanicalecology.bristol.ac.uk/research/impact-response-of-leaves/) and will benefit from custom-built setups and established methods to characterise the impact response of leaves. You will be part of an interdisciplinary team of biologists and engineers studying the biomechanical adaptations of plants to deal with physical challenges in their natural environment. You will be trained in a broad range of biomechanical methods such as high-speed videography, 3D motion analysis, material testing and surface imaging techniques, and learn to build and adapt your own experimental setups for use in the lab and in our departmental allotment. Understanding the biomechanical underpinnings of hail resistance in plants will not only help to inform crop breeders of traits to select for in order to produce more resilient crop plants, but also provide inspiration for architects and engineers aiming to construct buildings that are better equipped to withstand hailstorms and other extreme weather events.

Is larval imprinting a key mechanism by which insect crop pests can switch to new host plants?

Dr Sinead English
Insect crop pests are a major challenge to global food security. A potential mechanism underlying insects' ability to infest new plants is through larval imprinting, where host plant preferences of an adult are determined by the plant they experienced as a larva. However, whether such imprinting facilitates the success of crop pests at adapting to new agricultural host plants is unclear. Indeed, there has yet to be a general comparative study on the prevalence and effectiveness of larval imprinting in plant-feeding insects in general. In this project, the student will produce the first comparative study of larval imprinting across plant-feeding insects – focusing on which characteristics of crop pest species make them more amenable to using imprinting to switch to new host species. The student will also conduct their own experimental study to test predictions raised by this comparative approach and use insights from evolutionary ecology and developmental neurobiology to establish why and how such larval imprinting is retained across life stages. Understanding host plant switches in crop pests and non-native species will help establish why some species rapidly move onto new hosts, and help determine which ecological characteristics predict this ability, providing red flags for monitoring pest invasions.

The two sides of fruit development

Dr Beatriz Gonçalves
From leaves to floral organs, plants exhibit a remarkable diversity of organ shapes, which are not only beautiful but reflect the ingenious ways in which they adapt to the environment. The carpel, which is the female reproductive organ of all flowering plants, has a closed structure so that it protects the ovules inside. Despite the significance of this structure for the reproductive success of the plant, the mechanisms that shape the carpel are still a mystery. This project addresses the fundamental mechanisms that regulate shape formation in plant organs and aims to understand if there is a common developmental programme that generates a diversity of organ shapes, from leaves to carpels.
As the student in this project, you will use a reverse genetics approach to investigate whether the genes that pattern shape formation in leaves are conserved in carpel development. This project will provide training and experience in molecular biology and genetic approaches, as well as a range of microscopy skills. This studentship will generate valuable new insights into the molecular processes that underlie plant morphogenesis, and build fundamental knowledge that can help us better understand and engineer seed and fruit production.

The effects of land use on worker life history and lifespan in honeybees

Dr Christoph Grueter
Honeybees (Apis mellifera) are important pollinators of agricultural crops and like many other insects, honeybees face anthropogenic challenges and risks. A key challenge is rapid environmental change, mainly the conversion of natural and semi-natural land into urban or agricultural land. As a result, honeybees struggle to find enough food during some periods of the year. This can result in nutritional stress, which is linked to increased susceptibility to pathogens and parasites. Since honeybee diseases can spill over to wild insects, poor honeybee colony health represents an epidemiological risk for pollinator communities. This project explores the effects of land use on the behavioural maturation and lifespan of honeybee workers. Such interactions between land use and worker life history are expected because nutritional stress is known to accelerate the transition from in-hive work to foraging. Since foraging leads to an increase in mortality, an early onset of foraging is likely to lower worker lifespan and, thus, reduce colony size. Smaller colonies of shorter-lived bees will have a reduced capacity to pollinate crop plants. The successful candidate will work with colonies in different habitats and study the transition from in-hive to foraging behaviours and lifespan, using Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. Behavioural data will be complemented with molecular data on the expression of foraging and longevity marker genes.

Lonely at the top? How developmentally isolated are land plant meristems

Dr Jill Harrison
Perhaps the defining aspect of plant development is its plasticity. To be able to respond to changing environmental conditions and biotic stresses, plants maintain continuous pools of stem cells (known as meristems) that produce new organs throughout a plant's lifecycle. A longstanding question in the field is how developmentally isolated are these meristems? Do they function autonomously, or are they dependent on mobile signalling from elsewhere in the plant? To address this question, this project will use a cutting-edge cell-biology technique (iCalsm) to block intercellular communication between meristems and surrounding cells in phylogenetically divergent land plants. As part of this project, the student will develop fundamental skills in molecular biology (cloning, genotyping, qPCR) and a foundational toolkit in plant development (Arabidopsis and moss growth, histology, gene expression analyses).

Project goals

  • To develop the genetic tools required to block intercellular communication
  • To identify how important signalling is from leaves to the meristem in flowering plants
  • To determine whether mobile signalling is conserved in land plants

References

Vaten et al (2011) Callose biosynthesis regulates symplastic trafficking during root development Developmental Cell
Fouracre and Poethig (2021) Lonely at the top? Regulation of shoot apical meristem activity by intrinsic and extrinsic factors Curr Opin Plant Biol

Reaching for light: how aboveground competition shapes the 3D architecture of trees

Dr Tommaso Jucker
Trees come in all shapes and sizes – from incredibly tall and slender, to short and wide. Among the various drivers that shape tree architecture, a particularly important one is competition for light with neighbouring trees. However, because traditional surveying methods are poorly suited to accurately measuring tree crown architecture, little progress has been made in explaining how differences in overall tree driven by competition arise from underlying changes in branching patterns. To address this knowledge gap, this project will leverage recent advances in terrestrial laser scanning that allow us to generate highly detailed 3D reconstructions of a tree's branching architecture. By scanning trees spanning a range of competitive environments, the project aims to shed new light on how competition with neighbours moulds a tree's crown architecture and aboveground biomass.

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 (Perico and Sparkes, New Phytol. 2018; Ryan and Nebenführ, Plant Physiol 2018). Our understanding of the molecular mechanisms which drive and regulate organelle movement is poor, as is our understanding as to how movement affects cell growth. 
The project will identify the molecular components which drive organelle movement, more specifically the peroxisomes. By mutating the identified molecular tools, we will then be able to re-engineer peroxisome movement and determine how changes in movement affect cell size.
The project will provide training in plant imaging, cell biology and molecular biology, and will be based at the University of Bristol in Dr. Sparkes' research group within the plant biology grouping. Experience in plant biology is not essential although may be advantageous.

General Enquiries

General enquiries should be directed to Jeannine Richter
Funding enquiries should be directed to Dr Helen Harper  

Why study a masters by research at Bristol

Read Oona Lessware's blog on studying an MScR at Bristol.

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