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PhD opportunity

Leverhulme Centre for Advanced Biological Modelling

University of Sheffield


Intermediate complexity models of plant metabolism and growth


Colin Osborne (Dept. of Animal and Plant Sciences), Nick Monk (School of Mathematics and Statistics), Richard Clayton (Dept. of Computer Science)

Project Outline

Improving crop photosynthesis is a major international research priority, which aims to deliver transformative improvements in yields. However, the translation of greater carbon-fixation into improved yield depends crucially on whole-plant processes of carbon export, allocation and utilization. Although the molecular basis and interactions of these processes are well characterized, we currently have no way of quantifying when and how strongly each controls growth. Flux balance models simulate the relevant metabolic processes but are applied at the tissue scale, while crop production models simulate whole-plant growth and yield but lack the necessary molecular mechanisms. The PhD project will bridge this important knowledge gap by developing an entirely new class of intermediate complexity models (ICMs) to investigate metabolic processes and interactions at the whole plant scale. The modelling challenge for the student will be to identify the metabolic components with the greatest influence on whole-plant physiology. A two-pronged approach will initially be used, first testing a priori hypotheses about the key metabolic pools, fluxes and feedbacks that influence growth, and secondly through sensitivity analysis of the flux balance models using emulators. Our goal is to devise ICMs providing novel mechanistic insights into the plant-scale limitations and controls on crop production, as modified by genotype and environment.

The Centre for Advanced Biological Modeling (CABM) will harness cutting edge mathematical and computing skills to address major problems in biology. Biology at the University of Sheffield is defined by its strength in combining approaches across time-scales from ecological to evolutionary, and has been the subject of significant recent investment. Exploiting this breadth of research excellence, the CABM will extend cutting edge research in basic biology at Sheffield by harnessing the latest mathematical and computational techniques. Its legacy will be a cohort of research scientists at the cutting edge of biological modeling with the skills to tackle major societal problems.

We welcome applications from students with backgrounds and training in physics, maths or computer science or those with advanced numerical skills from a biology background (e.g. through masters-level training). Students may be UK or international. The PhD is fully funded for fees and bursary, and will start in September 2015.

Further Details

For further details and questions about the project, email Colin at c.p.osborne@sheffield.ac.uk. Applications should be made via the university postgraduate system http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/apply, and will be considered as they arrive. The deadline for applications is 13th Feb 2015.


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