Investigating the role of RNA silencing in potato development and stress responses

Supervisors: Dr Attila Molnar, Dr Csaba Hornnyik

Project Description:

RNA silencing-generated small noncoding RNAs (sRNAs) are essential regulators of gene expression in eukaryotes. They guide ribonucleoprotein complexes to target nucleic acids in order to mediate mRNA cleavage/destabilisation or translational inhibition in the cytoplasm. In addition, they can direct epigenetic modifications involving RNA-dependent DNA methylation (RdDM) and histone modifications in the nucleus. Recent experiments demonstrated that sRNAs are involved in intra- and inter-genomic interactions. They are also part of a mobile, long distance signalling network in plants [1]. The genes which encode for the key components of RNA silencing have proliferated and diversified. They play distinct roles in diverse RNA silencing pathways to control growth, development and stress-responses in our model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. However, our knowledge is very limited about the function of RNA silencing in crop species. This project will investigate the role of RNA silencing and RdDM in potato [2] using the CRISPR/Cas gene editing technology [3] in combination with molecular biology/biochemistry tools, to generate mutants in the major RNA silencing pathways, and to characterise the effect of these sequence-specific mutations on development, crop yield and stress-responses.

Our project will provide the framework to develop core research skills as well as excellent cross-disciplinary research training, including skills in communication and public engagement. The student will benefit from the shared resources and expertise of two leading UK research institutes – namely the University of Edinburgh and The James Hutton Institute.

1. Molnar et al., 2010, Science, 328: 872-875; 2. Zhang et al., 2013, PLoS ONE 8(2): e57233,; 3. Schindele et al., 2018, FEBS Letters, 592(12):1954-1967. doi: 10.1002/1873-3468.13073.

If you wish to apply for this project, please go to this link.