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MSc in Biological Sciences Research

This is a one-year Masters programme beginning in September. It offers students with a good first degree in Biochemistry, Biology or related disciplines the opportunity to develop their research skills (including data analysis, bioinformatics tools and presentation skills). Students will also acquire a wide range of advanced research techniques through carrying out a one-year research project under the direction of member of staff selected by the student.. Taught sessions will be delivered from September to March (typically Wednesdays) in addition to you working on your research project throughout the year.

The project will be selected from one of three major research areas within the School: Biomedical Sciences (BMS), Plant Molecular Sciences (PMS), and Ecology Evolution and Behaviour (EEB).

If you wish to discuss the MSc informally, please contact the MSc Programme Director Dr Pavlos Alifragis (01784 444988). 

Biomedical Science Projects and Supervisors


Applicants will be expected to have experience and evident knowledge of molecular cell biology, biochemistry.

Dr Pavlos Alifragis

Investigating pre-synaptic defects induced by Aβ

This study aims to investigate how Aβ affects neurotransmitter release. We have previously shown that the well documented effects of Aβ at the post-synaptic activity have a pre-synaptic component as well. The successful candidate will use a range of techniques (ranging from microscopy to biochemnistry) to analyse phosphorylation defects in candidate pre-synaptic proteins in the presence of Aβ. Furthermore, potential drugs will be used to identify if these effects can be attenuated.

Investigation of candidate ubiquitin ligases regulating the activity dependent degradation of NMDA receptors

It is of paramount importance to analyze the molecular mechanisms regulating the activity of NMDA receptors. NMDA receptors are essential for many physiological processes and their deregulation is the underlying cause of an ever increasing list of neurological disorders. We have shown that Slap, an adaptor protein is involved in a mechanism that regulates the degradation of NMDAR’s. The successful candidate will investigate if a ubiquitin ligase we have isolated is the missing link between Slap and the degradation of NMDAR’s using a variety of techniques (Molecular biology, biochemistry).

Research page - Dr Alifragis 

Dr Jon Beauchamp

Investigation of the role of Notch signalling in regulating adult skeletal muscle stem cell behaviour.

Adult skeletal muscle regeneration requires a population of tissue-specific stem cells, termed satellite cells. Normally quiescent, satellite cells become activated, proliferate and eventually differentiate to replace, repair or augment functional muscle fibres. In many developing and adult tissues, cell behaviour and fate decisions are known to be regulated by the Notch signalling pathway and in skeletal muscle, Notch1 activity is known to promote proliferation of progenitors prior to differentiation. However, Notch1 is one of a family of four mammalian Notch receptors, each of which can interact with any of five different ligands resulting in different behavioural outcomes depending on receptor-ligand combination(s), cellular context and expression of regulators such as Numb. The aim of this project is to investigate the role of Notch signalling, in particular through Notch2 and Notch3, in the regulation of stem and progenitor cell behaviour during the various phases of skeletal muscle regeneration.

Investigation of adult skeletal muscle stem cell self-renewal.  

The growth, repair and regeneration of adult skeletal muscle involve the activation of quiescent tissue-specific stem cells (satellite cells) that proliferate and then differentiate to become post-mitotic myonuclei within functional muscle fibres. However, in order to maintain regenerative capacity throughout adult life, it is essential that the satellite cell pool is replenished. This is thought to occur through a process of self-renewal during which a minority of activated, proliferating progenitor cells withdraw from the differentiation pathway and return to a state of undifferentiated quiescence, thereby repopulating the stem cell pool to meet future demands. Why some precursors re-acquire stem cell status whilst the majority undergo terminal differentiation within the same regenerating environment, is unknown. The adoption of alternate fates can be observed in vitro as once differentiated, skeletal muscle cell cultures contain a minority of undifferentiated, quiescent cells (reserve cells) that share many characteristics of satellite cells, including the capacity for reactivation. The aim of this project is to use this system to investigate the mechanisms that control cell fate decisions during skeletal muscle differentiation as a model of satellite cell self-renewal during regeneration. 

Research page - Dr Beauchamp 

Dr Philip Chen

NMDR triggered cell death 

NMDA receptors are a subtype of ionotropic glutamate involved in neuronal cell death following stroke, brain trauma and a number of chronic neurodegenerative diseases. This project will examine how different intracellular proteins may influence the cell death process triggered by NMDARs in mammalian cell lines and primary neurones. This project will involve, basic molecular techniques, tissue culture, expression of recombinant NMDARs or mammalian cell lines and biochemical assays to measure cell survival.

Identifying novel gene therapies against motor neurone degeneration

One of the most common mutations in familial forms of motor neurone disease occurs in the superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) enzyme and we are exploring novel strategies to reduce the levels of the mutated protein using a technique known as 'exon skipping'. This project would involve tissue culture in cell lines, measuring SOD1 enzyme assays and transient cell transfections of gene therapy reagents. 

Research page - Dr Chen  

Professor Simon Cutting

Mucosal vaccines.

Work consists of innovative bacterial delivery systems for mucosal vaccination (i.e. against malaria or TB). Due to the dynamics of our projects, they are ongoing and subject to change on a regular basis and cannot be specified in advance. 

Research pages - Professor Cutting and Sporegen

Professor George Dickson

Genetic Therapy for Muscular Dystrophy (I): Genetic Engineering, Optimisation and Production of Gene Therapy Vectors

Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), the most common inherited lethal childhood disease is caused in the majority of families by gene mutations leading to premature truncation of the large cytoskeletal protein, dystrophin. Gene therapy with recombinant cDNA-based mini/micro genes and vectors based on the human parvovirus, adeno-associated virus(AAV), has been demonstrated. In this project AAV vectors encoding optimised dystrophin micro-genes will be developed and tested in animal models. Biotechnologies involved include recombinant DNA engineering, viral vector production, and immunological analyses.

Genetic Therapy for Muscular Dystrophy (II): RNA Interference (RNAi)-Mediated Therapies.

Oculo-Pharyngeal Muscular Dystrophy (OPMD) in a rare autosomal dominant inherited muscular dystrophy caused by a triplet-repeat expansion mutations in the poly-A binding protein (PABPN1) gene. The mutant gene encodes a product with pathogenic activities, and there is no current treatment for OPMD, but inhibition of expression of PABP1 provides a potential therapeutic approach. The aim of the project will be to evaluate shRNA to PABPN1 transcripts and evaluate the mouse OPMD model. Biotechnologies involved include recombinant DNA engineering, viral vector production, and immunological analyses.

Research Pages - Professor George Dickson

 Dr James McEvoy

Investigating membrane redox biochemistry with electrochemistry

Electrochemical methods are uniquely suited to the investigation of redox reactions at membranes; model membranes may be constructed at an electrode surface and examined by a highly sensitive technique, providing rich thermodynamic and kinetic data. Direct electrochemical methods (notably voltammetry) have been used extensively to study the mechanisms of water-soluble redox proteins, but less use has been made of these techniques in studying membrane systems. This project will develop new ways of using electrochemistry to study membrane proteins and membrane-confined, redox-active molecules such as ubiquinone and vitamin E, which have important anti-oxidant roles.

Characterisation and treatment of bacterial biofilms from orthopedic pins

Bacterial biofilms are a common cause of infection in surgical implants and pin tract infection is the major complication of external fixation of fractures. This project, in collaboration with Dr Shobana Dissanayeke (RHUL) and St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey, will characterize bacterial biofilms that have been obtained from percutaneous pins used in orthopedic fixation frames. We will identify the principal infecting organisms on such pins and measure the effectiveness of different antimicrobial treatments and coatings on in vitro models of these biofilms. These will include antibiotics and the use of silver nanoparticles. We will also investigate the contribution of fungi to pin site infections. Our long-term objective is to inform surgical practice and reduce pin tract infection rates.

Research Pages - Dr McEvoy  

Dr Jenny Murdoch

Understanding the molecular and cellular function of proteins involved in developmental neurobiology.

Formation of the nervous system is a fundamental part of normal embryonic development. Our lab has identified a number of genes that are critical for normal development of the nervous system. When disrupted, these genes cause defects of neural tube closure, and of neural tube patterning. The molecular function of the genes is partly understood, but many questions remain. The aim of the project will be to contribute towards the elucidation of the molecular and cellular function of a specific protein. As an MSc student, you are likely to use a range of molecular techniques, as well as cell biology approaches. Precise details will depend on the exact status of current research at the time of beginning the MSc project.

Investigating the interactions of proteins involved in developmental neurobiology.

Our lab is focussed on understanding the molecular and cellular processes involved in development of the mammalian nervous system. We have identified several genes that are important for normal nervous system development, but we have only a partial understanding of their molecular function. One way to investigate molecular function is by identifying interacting proteins. The aim of the project will be to contribute towards the elucidation of the function of a specific protein, by elaborating on the protein interactions. You are likely to use a wide range of molecular techniques, as well as mammalian cell culture. Precise details will depend on the exact status of current research at the time of beginning the MSc project.

Research Pages - Dr Murdoch

Dr Linda Popplewell

Optimisation of antisense oligonucleotide-induced exon skipping as a therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a severe muscle-wasting disease due to lack of dystrophin protein, is caused by mutations in the DMD gene. Antisense oligonucleotides (AOs) can be used to restore the transcript reading frame so that truncated but functional dystrophin protein is expressed. Clinical trials show that such a therapy appears to halt the progression of the disease. The aim of this project would be to enhance the levels of exon skipping seen using alternative AO delivery methods, and modulators of gene expression so that therapeutic benefit is enhanced.

Upregulation of utrophin expression as a therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a severe muscle-wasting disease due to lack of dystrophin protein, is caused by mutations in the DMD gene. Utrophin is a structural homolog of dystrophin protein and can act as its substitute at the sarcolemma. Upregulation of utrophin expression has been achieved using small molecule interaction with its promoter. While good results are evident in animal models, effects appear to be limited in clinical trial. The aim of this project would be examine alternative strategies to upregulate utrophin expression using the CRISPR system together with transcriptional activators.

Research Pages - Dr Popplewell


Prof Pankaj Sharma

Epidemiology of global stroke in South Asians

You will be based in a group headed by a clinical academic.

Stroke is the third commonest cause of death in the UK. WHO estimates that by 2050 around 80% of all stroke will be in India and China. Our group has amassed the largest database of South Asian stroke in the world. We have data from UK, India and the Middle East.

It is expected that these projects will lead to publications in major international peer review journals.

This project will allow students to analyse this extensive database to search for interactions between stroke and established risk factors.

Risk factors in South Asian stroke

You will be based in a group headed by a clinical academic.

Stroke is the third commonest cause of death in the UK. WHO estimates that by 2050 around 80% of all stroke will be in India and China. Our group has amassed the largest database of South Asian stroke in the world. We have data from UK, India and the Middle East.

It is expected that these projects will lead to publications in major international peer review journals.

This project will allow students to analyse this extensive database to search for novel risk factors in South Asians and compare and contrast such factors with stroke in Caucasians.

Designing a new strategy for ‘5-a-day’ intake

You will be based in a group headed by a clinical academic and be supervised by two clinicians.

The 5-a-day campaign was launched by the UK Government to ensure that the population eats at least five fruit and vegetables per day. Research suggests that those that do this have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, the evidence is that most people do not remember how many of their 5-a-day they have eaten. We propose to develop a new colour based flag strategy for each meal to replace the 5-a-day slogan.

This work potentially has large and important clinical and public health implications.

Research Pages - Prof Sharma

Dr Mikhail Soloviev

Protein-protein interactions involved in Salmonella-host interactions

Salmonellae are Gram-negative bacterial pathogens that are capable of infecting a wide range of plants and animals, including humans. S. typhimurium is the causative agent of various human diseases, reaching from enteritis to typhoid fever. Disease in mammals usually occurs by oral ingestion of contaminated food or water. Systemic infection of animals and humans depends on the ability of the bacteria to survive the harsh conditions of the gastric tract before entering intestinal epithelial and subsequently other host cells. After entering the small intestine, Salmonellae traverse the intestinal mucous layer and have the ability to invade the non-phagocytic enterocytes of the intestinal epithelium by bacterial-mediated endocytosis. Once the epithelial barrier has been breached, Salmonella can enter intestinal macrophages, sensing the phagosomal environment and activating various virulence mechanisms in order to survive in the microbicidal environment of the host cells. A focus of the project will be to investigate how the host cells respond to bacteria by systematic analysis of protein-protein interactions between Salmonella proteins and host proteins.

Biomedical applications of nanoparticles

In the recent years the nanobiotechnology field has witnessed an increase in interest towards the nanoparticles and their biological effects and applications. These include bottom-up and molecular self-assembly, biological effects of naked nanoparticles and nano-safety, drug encapsulation and nanotherapeutics, and novel nanoparticles for use in microscopy, imaging and diagnostics. Some of the most promising applications of biologically inspired nanoparticles have so far been in nanobiotechnology and in tissue- and cell-specific drug delivery in particular. The nanoparticles made of biopolymers, such as bacterial spores, viruses and alike are naturally uniform in size and offer precise control for the surface-displayed targeting groups and their components. Furthermore, such biological nanoparticles may be produced recombinantly and their assembly may be followed using a range of molecular and cellular approaches and instrumental techniques. However, the stability of nanoparticles made of biopolymers is one of the limiting factors which will determine the range of their applications. A focus of the project will be to create and characterise composite nanoparticles having multiple cellular and sub-cellular targeting modules.

Research Pages - Dr Soloviev 


Dr Jorge Tovar

Development of molecular diagnostic testing for fungal infections

Human fungal infections represent one of the most pressing health problems in recent years. Endemic infections affect healthy immunocompetent individuals causing a range of diseases which generally resolve with chemotherapy but hospital-acquired nosocomial infections pose a serious threat to immunocompromised patients in hospital wards and intensive care units worldwide. Despite the availability of chemotherapy nosocomial infections frequently result in high mortality rates, often exceeding 50%. The development of timely and more efficient molecular diagnostic methods, along with the development of new drugs and anti-fungal vaccines, was recently identified as one of the most pressing needs in medical mycology research.

We are interested in developing and implementing simple nucleic acids diagnostic tests for a range of fungal infections, including both endemic and opportunistic. Using fungal genome data mining and isothermal DNA amplification this project will use Candida – the causative agent of endemic and nosocomial candidosis – to develop simple diagnostic tools that are both amenable to automation and applicable at the point of care.

Identification of molecular targets for transmission-blocking anti-Giardia therapy 

Giardia is an intestinal parasite of humans responsible for over 200 million clinical cases of the diarrhoeal disease (giardiasis) worldwide. One of the most important aspects of the biology of this parasite is its cyclical developmental transformation between a gut colonising trophozoite and an environmentally resistant infective cyst. Cysts are responsible for disease transmission. Although much is known at the cellular level about the transitional steps that lead from trophozoite to cyst morphology (encystation) the molecular mechanisms that regulate this process remains obscure.

Expression and inhibition studies in our laboratory suggest that giardial PI3K signalling may participate in the process of parasite encystation. We have recently developed a laboratory method that triggers the early stages of Giardia encystation in vitro. This project will make use of this methodology to study the transcriptional changes responsible for this morphological transformation with the aim of identifying key regulatory molecules that could be developed as targets for transmission-blocking therapeutic intervention.

Research Pages: Dr Tovar

Dr Chris Wilkinson

Centrosomes and melanoma

Centrosome aberrations are a hallmark of cancer. Excessive centrosome numbers are thought to drive carcinogenesis by contributing to aneuploidy and chromosomal instability. However, much remains to be understood about the origin and the contribution of excessive centrosomes in tumorigenesis. This Master’s project will test if centrosomal abnormalities correlate with progression of melanoma and investigate if this is driven by loss of INK4 proteins p15 and p16. A combination of cell biology, immunocytochemistry, epifluorescence microscopy and protein analysis such as Western blotting will be used in this project. 

Role of the centrosomin family of proteins in microcephaly and early neurogenesis

Primary microcephaly is a disease in which the size of the brain is much reduced but normal tissue architecture retained. Last year we showed that loss of many of the genes mutated in microcephaly results in a slow cell cycle, in a zebrafish model of the disease. We’d like to extend this study by looking at embryonic zebrafish brains. It is also a mystery why the brain alone is affected. In the case of one of the genes mutated, there is a sister protein with which it might be partially redundant. In this project, we will deplete this protein from zebrafish embryos and investigate the effect using a combination of zebrafish cell culture, embryology and confocal fluorescence microscopy.

Role of a polycystin-interacting protein in ciliogenesis

Cilia are hair-like structures on the surface of many animal cells. They have important roles in cell signalling and tissue development and homeostasis. Cilium malfunction is linked to autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD), which affects 1 in 1000 of the population, as the cilium houses polycystin-1 whose gene is frequently mutated in ADPKD. This project will investigate the role of a protein that interacts with polycystin-1, discovered by our collaborator, Richard Sandford at Cambridge. A variety of cell biology and embryological techniques will be used to investigate its function using tissue culture cells and zebrafish embryos.

Research Pages - Dr Wilkinson 

Professor Robin Williams

Bipolar disorder, inositol depletion and the model system Dictyostelium

Bipolar disorder is a common neuropsychiatric disorder that is associated with an increased likelihood of suicide. Research in this field is difficult, since few molecular targets are known, and experimental approaches are almost entirely based upon animal models. One strongly supported mechanism of how bipolar disorder drugs work is the ‘inositol depletion’ hypothesis, which states that treatments such as valproic acid function to deplete inositol within neurons to control an individual’s emotional state. This effect may involve the regulation of the biosynthetic enzyme, inositol synthase. Using Dictyostelium as an animal replacement model, our recent data has identified several mechanisms by which inositol synthase acts. This project will employ Dictyostelium to identify how these mechanisms occur, without the use of animal models. Skills developed in the project will include a range of key molecular cell biology, microbiology and microscopy techniques.

Related Research 

Defining the primordial target for gamma-secretase in the social amoeba, Dictyostelium

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating neurological disorder that is associated with changes in the activity of a highly conserved protein complex called gamma-secretase. Research in this field is increasingly breeding genetically modified animals as a model for study, and thus alternate non-animal models are needed to reduce animal experimentation. We have recently shown that the key human protein within this complex, presenilin 1, is active in the social amoeba, Dictyostelium. The substrates for the complex are well characterised in humans, however, no substrate has been identified in Dictyostelium. This project will involve the identification and characterisation of a potential Dictyostelium gamma-secretase substrate that will help to unravel the primordial role of this important complex, without the use of animal models. The project will involve the genetic ablation and over-expression of a fluorescently tagged gene in Dictyostelium. Skills developed in the project will include a range of key molecular cell biology, microbiology and microscopy techniques.

Related Research

Research Pages - Professor Williams 

Dr Rafael Yanez

Gene therapy, viral vector, Spinal muscular atrophy

Spinal muscular atrophy is an autosomal recessive disease and one of the most common and severe inherited disorders. Lack or inactivation of SMN1 lead to progressive degeneration of motor neurons in the spinal cord, causing bilateral muscular atrophy and death in the worst affected cases. We are aiming to develop genetic therapies for this disease with the goal of preventing or slowing down motor neuron degeneration. The project will involve molecular cloning, production of viral vectors and initial testing in cell culture. The expected outcome is lentiviral vectors with the capacity to improve survival of motor neurons.

 Research Pages - Dr Yanez


Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour Projects and Supervisors

Professor Mark Brown

Evolutionary ecology of host-parasite Interactions

50% of all animal species are parasites, and how they interact with their hosts impacts ecology and evolution from individuals – e.g., host reproductive fitness – to ecosystems – e.g., parasites determine ecosystem structure and stability. We work on the interactions between parasites and social insects (mostly bumble bees, but also ants and honey bees) using a range of approaches, including fieldwork, infection experiments, functional immunology, and molecular ecology. Projects available in this area include the impact and epidemiology of natural and emergent diseases, parasites in invasive species, how hosts defend themselves against parasites, and parasite phylogeography. Please contact me for further information.

Conservation: the behaviour and ecology of bumble bees

Bumble bees are a major, and attractive component of UK (and global) ecosystems, providing the essential service of pollination to wildflowers and crops. Our interests include understanding the ecological needs of bumble bees, understanding patterns of decline, and re-introduction programmes. Available projects include the behaviour and ecology of bumble bee queens, the reintroduction of the short-haired bumble bee to the UK, and the ecology and behaviour of male bumble bees. Please contact me for further information.

Biology of social insects

Social insects are the ecologically dominant terrestrial animals, playing roles as major herbivores and predators, as well as providing the services of pest control, soil production and maintenance, and pollination. We are broadly interested in the biology of social insects, and are happy to support MSc projects in this area. Please look at my webpage and publications to see examples of previous work, and contact me for further information.

Research Pages - Dr Brown  - http://tinyurl.com/MarkJFBrown

Professor Alan Gange

Interactions between symbiotic fungi and insects

“Plants are not discrete entities, but instead are mergers of fungal cells with plant tissues” (Wilson, 1993). This statement implies that every living plant has fungi living within the roots and shoots. What are the consequences of such infection for insects that also feed upon these plants? Can certain fungi protect plants against insect herbivore attack and so be used to help control pest insects? Meanwhile, if other fungi decrease the resistance of plants to herbivore attack, could these be used to improve biological weed control practises? Do the effects of the fungi extend to other trophic levels, such as predators and parasitoids? Our laboratory is trying to answer these questions and more, so as to understand the role that symbiotic fungi play in structuring communities of plants and animals.

Two projects are available, one involving arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and one with foliar endophyte fungi. Each would involve laboratory and field experiments in which we infect plants with combinations of fungi and examine the effects on higher tropic levels. The two areas are not exclusive, and we could easily run projects involving both mycorrhizas and endophytes together.

Key references:

Gange, A.C., Eschen, R., Wearn, J.A., Thawer, A. & Sutton, B.C. (2012). Differential effects of foliar endophytic fungi on insect herbivores attacking a herbaceous plant. Oecologia 168,1023-1031.

Hartley, S.E. & Gange, A.C. (2009). The impacts of symbiotic fungi on insect herbivores: mutualism in a multitrophic context. Annual Review of Entomology 54, 323-342.

Gange, A.C., Brown, V.K. & Aplin, D.M. (2005). Ecological specificity of arbuscular mycorrhizae: evidence from foliar- and seed-feeding insects. Ecology, 86, 603-611.

Gange. A.C., Brown, V.K. & Aplin, D.M. (2003). Multitrophic links between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and insect parasitoids. Ecology Letters, 6, 1051-1055.

Gange, A.C., Stagg, P.G. & Ward, L.K. (2002). Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi affect phytophagous insect specialism. Ecology Letters 5, 11-15.

Wilson, D. (1993). Fungal endophytes – out of sight, but should not be out of mind. Oikos 68, 379-84.

Research Pages - Professor Gange  

Dr Lena Grinsted

Behavioural ecology of tropical mixed-species spider colonies

Colonies consisting of two different spider species (genus: Chikunia; family: Theridiidae) were recently discovered on Bali. Both spider species show extended maternal care by catching prey and feeding it to their young. Although females of both species live in close proximity within colonies, they do not appear to cooperate with each other in foraging and brood care. Despite this lack of cooperation, mothers seem to readily adopt foreign young.

 Possible research questions:

  • What is the geographical distribution of each species on Bali and what is the extent of their range overlap?
  • Do females adopt abandoned young in the field and does hetero-specific adoption occur?
  • Are inter-specific interactions mutualistic or asymmetric: Is one of the species a parasite and the other its host?
  • What are the costs and benefits associated with group living in single- versus mixed-species groups? 

The project will include behavioural assays in the field on Bali and may be combined with molecular lab work (microsatellites).

Research Pages - Dr Lena Grinsted

Professor Vincent Jansen

Models for social interaction in microbes.

Microbes interact in various ways, for instance they can release antibiotics to stave of competitors, or they can release substance which help other microbes take up iron from the environment. In this way basic ecological interactions, such as competition or mutualisms can be realised in very simple organisms. This project aims to develop simple models for the interaction of microbes. Once such a model is formulated and analysed, it can then be used to study the evolution of microbes in a theoretical fashion. This project will concentrate on the production of siderophores, which allow microbes to interact through the production of a public good. This is a theoretical project that will require some experience and interest in mathematical modelling.

Models for social interaction between fungi and plants.

Fungi interact with plants in various ways, for instance as pathogen, but they can also engage in a mutualistic interaction through the formation of mycorrhizas. they can release antibiotics to stave of competitors, or they can release substance which help other microbes take up iron from the environment. In this was basic ecological interactions, such as antagonisms or mutualisms can be realised. This project aims to develop simple models for the plant-fungal interaction of microbe. Once such a model is formulated and analysed, it can then be used to study the evolution of microbes in a theoretical fashion. This is a theoretical project that will require some experience and interest in mathematical modelling

Research Pages - Professor Jansen

Professor Julia Koricheva

Does leaf variegation reduce herbivore damage?

Leaf variegation is the appear­ance of differently coloured zones in leaves which is caused by a decrease, deficiency or masking of chlorophyll. Degree of leaf variegation often varies within plant species and many ornamental plants have variegated varieties. Leaf variegation may reduce photosynthetic efficiency of plants, but this may be compensated by other benefits, and it has been suggested that variegated plants may suffer less herbivory. This project will explore evidence of the anti-herbivory effect of leaf variegation by using holly and associated leafminer Phytomyza ilicis. Normal and variegated varieties of hollies will be compared and amount of herbivory received and herbivore performance will be recorded.

Sex-biased herbivory.

For dioecious plants, plant quality might vary between male and female plants due to their differential investment in vegetative growth

and reproduction and its consequences for tissue nutritional quality. This project will explore difference in herbivory by leafminer Phytomyza ilicis on holly. Male and female holly plants will be selected and compared in terms of various leaf traits which might affect herbivory. The amount of herbivory received and herbivore performance on male and female plants will also be compared.

Research Pages - Professor Koricheva 

Dr Elli Leadbeater

Mechanisms underlying social learning abilities in bumblebees 

This project will focus on the evolution of social learning abilities. Most social animals are adept at learning from others, but we understand little about how these abilities are shaped by natural selection, or indeed whether they have evolved at all. We will use a series of behavioural experiments in the lab to elucidate the types of learning process that underlie social learning, using bumblebees as a model. Note that this project is not suitable for anyone with an allergy to beestings or to pollen.

Bumblebee cognition in the wild

Bees and other pollinators visit thousands of flowers during each foraging trip. Remembering the locations of patches that have already been visited most likely selects for good working spatial memory abilities, and here we will 1) demonstrate the use of spatial working memory in laboratory-based bumblebee foraging assays 2) investigate the link between working spatial memory and foraging success in the wild. Note that this project is not suitable for anyone with an allergy to beestings or to pollen.

Research page- Dr Leadbeater

Dr Dave Morritt

Biology of Chinese mitten crabs in the River Thames

The project, which will involve collaboration with the Natural History Museum, London, could investigate various aspects of the reproductive biology and population migrations of the invasive alien Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis. This crab is one of only two brachyuran crabs listed in the 100 worse invasive species and has a number of adverse impacts on native biota, river banks and fishing activities. Recent evidence suggests that small crabs may have successfully recruited into sites on the Thames following a period when they were less widely recorded (possibly due to extreme flood events in the past two winters). The project could explore the extent of this apparent proliferation in numbers as well as consider other aspects of the biology of the species. There will also be an opportunity to interact with collaborators at other institutions working on different aspects of mitten crab biology, including a current public recording scheme. 


Morritt, D., Mills, H., Hind, K., Clifton-Dey, D. & Clark, P.F. (2013) Monitoring downstream migrations of Eriocheir sinensis H. Mine Edwards, 1853 (Crustacea: Brachyura: Grapsoidea: Varunidae) in the River Thames using capture data from a water abstraction intake. Management of Biological Invasions 4: 139-147

Webster, J.M., Clark, P.F. & Morritt, D. (2015) Laboratory based feeding behaviour of the Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis, (Crustacea: Decapoda, Brachyura, Varunidae): fish egg consumption. Aquatic Invasions 10: 313-326

Mills, C.D, Clark, P.F. & Morritt, D. (2016) Flexible prey handling, preference and a novel capture technique in invasive, sub-adult Chinese mitten crabs. Hydrobiologia 733: 135-147

Research project webpage - www.mittencrabs.org.uk

The impacts of plastic pollution on River Thames biota

During fyke net trials in the River Thames it became apparent that large quantities of litter, especially plastics, are moving along the river bed. These data (see Morritt et al., 2014), and well-established monitoring by organisations such as Thames 21 and Port of London Authority, highlight a serious environment issue. Preliminary studies have now demonstrated how Thames organisms may be exposed to plastics in the environment (McGoran et al. 2016). The aim of this project is to further describe and quantify the presence of plastics in the guts of Thames organisms, e.g. crustaceans and bottom-feeding fish, in order to provide a comparison with data for marine species. Work to establish the role trophic links in plastic ingestion could form an important part of the study. The project will involve collaboration with colleagues at the Natural History Museum, London and in the Thames Estuary Partnership.


Morritt, D., Stefanoudis, P.V., Pearce, D., Crimmen, O.A. & Clark, P.F. (2014) Plastic in the Thames: a river runs through it. Marine Pollution Bulletin 78: 196–200

McGoran, A.R., Clark, P.F. & Morritt, D. (2016) Presence of microplastic in the digestive tracts of European flounder, Platichthys flesus, and European smelt, Osmerus eperlanus, from the River Thames. Environmental Pollution http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2016.09.078


Research Pages - Dr Morritt 

Dr Sarah Papworth

Conservation: behavioural interactions between humans and other primates

Primates are relatively large bodied mammals with slow reproduction rates, making them vulnerable to population declines. Distributed across the tropics, they face numerous threats, including habitat decline and unsustainable hunting. Our group is interested in primate behavioural responses to direct (e.g. hunting and ecotourism) and indirect (e.g. habitat decline and degradation) human disturbances. Available projects would require field work in the tropics to collect data on primate behaviour. Please contact me for further information.

The shifting baseline syndrome and its impacts on conservation management

Shifting baseline syndrome describes how a lack of information about past ecological conditions can change the decisions made in conservation and environmental management. This information may be lacking as ecological information (for example from surveys) was never collected. Where this information is not available, managers may forget past ecological conditions or be too young to have experienced them. Since it was first proposed, research on shifting baselines in conservation has largely focused on either quantifying changing biological conditions over time, or on identifying whether local communities are aware of changes in environmental conditions. Yet as originally proposed, the shifting baseline syndrome was a particular issue if resource managers and conservation professionals could not identify environmental changes due to lack of past biological information or lack of experience of past conditions, and thus did not address them. This project will use social science methods to examine the evidence for shifting baseline syndrome in conservation managers. Please contact me for further information.

Research pages - Dr Sarah Papworth

Dr Steve Portugal

Group Dynamics, Navigation & Behaviour in homing pigeons 

Body mass is an important component of the energetic costs involved in bird flight. Fat stores are an essential source of fuel for the body during long flights, but excessive body mass will increase flight costs dramatically. Body mass is also known to play a role in certain animal societies in determining social structure and dominance hierarchies. Birds will have a trade-off, therefore, between optimal body mass for flight, and requirements for body fuel in the form of fat, and social dynamics.

 This project aims to investigate flock social structure and group dynamics in homing pigeons. Birds will be flown from release sites equipped with data loggers, and factors such as speed, flap frequency and wing-beat amplitude of all birds within the flock will be investigated. Individuals will then have their body mass artificially manipulated, to measure the outcomes this has on the birds general flight behaviour. These manipulations will be achieved through the addition of small weights to the back of the birds. Furthermore, this project will investigate dominance hierarchies in pigeon flocks, and leader follower dynamics during group navigational flights, again with respect to manipulations of body mass.

Cuckoo physiology and embryonic development

Certain species of cuckoo are obligate avian brood parasites, laying their eggs in host’s nests and playing no role in the provisioning of their progeny. Many cuckoo eggs hatch before their hosts, and the altricial chick evicts host eggs and/or nestlings. This eviction behaviour is achieved by pushing the eggs or nestlings over the edge of the nest, typically using the back and neck. Such actions require impressive strength, and suggest cuckoos have a different development physiology both to their hosts, and altricial hatchlings in general. This project will aim to understand how cuckoo embryos are able to develop quicker than their hosts, and grow such strong musculature. Experiments will focus on the degree of embryonic movements during development, gas exchange and metabolic rate during incubation, and mobilisation of eggshell calcium for bone development of the embryo. The project will involve spring fieldwork in Panama, Czech Republic and Ithica (New York), in collaboration with Dr. Christine Riehl, Dr. Marcel Honza and Prof. Mark Hauber. 

Research Pages - Dr Portugal 

Dr Francisco Ubeda

Mathematical Models of Parent-of-Origin Expression

Genomic imprinting refers to the silencing of genes according to their parental origin (either paternally silenced and maternally expressed or vice versa). In this research I m interested in elaborating mathematical models that explore why would natural selection favour losing the advantages of diploidy to produce a functionally haploid locus

Mathematical Models of Gene Transmission.

Meiotic drive refers to the preferential transmission of an allele (driving allele) during meiosis in diploid individuals. In this research I am interested in elaborating mathematical models that explore why is fair (Mendelian) segregation the rule and not the exception

Research Pages - Dr Ubeda 

Plant Molecular Science Projects and Supervisors

Dr Laurence Bindschedler 

How does barley powdery mildew interact at the protein level to successfully invade its host?

Pathogens secrete small proteins called effectors or virulence factors which are important for the successful invasion of the host. These effectors act by compromising the host immunity. Powdery mildews are economically important obligate fungal pathogens of cereals such as wheat and barley. Barley powdery mildew expresses and secretes many small unknown proteins of unknown functions, as well as a protease and glucosidases at the early stage of infection. To elucidate their function, we will be addressing one or some of the following questions:
- When and where are they expressed?
- Which barley proteins do they target?
- Are they species specific?
- Are they required for a successful infection?

Molecular and proteomic approaches will be used to investigate the role of powdery mildew effector proteins of this plant pathogen during infection of barley by its powdery mildew.

RNAi in planta to control diseases caused by obligate fungi in cereal crops.

The aim of this project is to develop high throughput workflow for gene silencing of plant pathogenic fungi with an ultimate goal of controlling plant diseases.

RNA interference (RNAi) is a powerful technique to investigate gene function by down regulating the expression of a particular gene in vivo (i.e. gene silencing).

Large scale RNAi strategies were possible through the design of synthetic siRNAs in mammalian systems or artificial microRNAs in plants but depend on cloning and protoplasts production.

Newer methods to adapt RNAi to plant systems have emerged using either cell permeable peptides to facilitate direct siRNA or oligodeoxynucleotides (ODN) molecules uptake in whole plants or leaves.

Research Pages - Dr Bindschedler   

Professor Laci Bogre

Balancing Assimilates for pant growth, cell proliferation and productivity.

Plant growth and crop productivity is intimately linked to the efficiency of light capture and to the balanced storage and utilisation of assimilates. The evolutionary conserved TOR-S6K signalling pathway functions to adjust the rate of protein synthesis to demands (Deprost et al. (2007) EMBO Rep 8:864-870.). 

Cell proliferation is repressed upon carbon starvation, and we have shown that S6K1 is playing a role in this process (Henriques et al. (2010) EMBO J 29:2979-93.). We have also shown that exposure of etiolated seedlings to light rapidly revert starvation and leads to activation of protein synthesis and cell proliferation in shoot apex. 

Light has a direct input into cell proliferation through DET1 and COP1 which regulate the balance between transcriptional activator/repressor; E2FB/E2FC (Lopez et al (2008) Plant Cell 20:947-68.). Cell proliferation adjusted to available sucrose through regulating the expression, translation and protein stability of D-type cyclins and so RBR phosphorylation and leads to the release of E2FB to activate proliferation (Magyar et al (2012) EMBO J. 31:1480-93.). 

On the other hand, E2FA forms a stable repressor complex with RBR to maintain the meristem, while E2FC appears to be involved in induction of genes involved in metabolism, light and circadian rhythm (deJager et al. (2009) PMB 71(4-5):345-65.). The central question of this project: how carbon balance is connected to the regulation of growth and cell proliferation. 

How plant growth is adopted to drought conditions.

One major consequence of the global changes in climate is an uneven distribution of freshwater, leading to drought in large areas worldwide. This already have a strong influence on agricultural productivity. 

Our current understanding of plant adaptation to drought stress is limited to survival mechanisms, but little is known how mild drought condition restrains plant productivity and yield. We have discovered a drought induced MAPK signalling pathway that restrain plant growth through multiple mechanisms; i) by regulation auxin transport, ii) regulating cell proliferation. 

The overall aim of the proposed research is to identify cell cycle-regulatory targets of the drought-responsive MAPK signaling pathway, and link these to the growth adaptation of plants under drought stress conditions. To do this we will perform: (ii) computational predictions of MAPK substrates involved in cell cycle regulation, (iii) targeted approaches to test MAPK phosphorylation of key regulators in plant growth regulation, the RBR transcriptional repressor complex. 

Research Pages - Professor Bogre 

Dr Paul Devlin

Next generation sequencing-based analysis secondary metabolite production pathways in basil

Basil is a culinary herb prized for its flavour and aroma. These characteristics are determined by the production of an array of secondary metabolites. We are interested in the environmental regulation of those pathways. We have been using a next generation, high-throughput RNA sequencing approach to generate RNAseq data from basil plants grown under different environmental conditions. Our aim is to examine the environmental effects on expression of genes involved in secondary metabolite production pathways. By understanding more about these pathways and their environmental responsiveness at the molecular level, it is hoped that we can improve secondary metabolite production by modifying growing conditions.

This project will provide training in RNA-seq data analysis in order to examine patterns of differential gene expression. It will also involve quantitative RT-PCR-based confirmation of this pathway analysis and testing of the effectiveness of predictions for improved growing conditions

Next generation sequencing-based analysis of the effects of farming practice on the plant microbial flora

Healthy plants, like all higher organisms, host an extensive commensal microbial community or microbiome. Non-pathogenic microbes are tolerated and in many cases benefit the host. In plants, the leaf microbiome, the phyllosphere, contains a wide range of bacterial and fungal species, including some that have been shown to play an important role in disease prevention. Changes in the microbiome can, therefore, have important effects on the disease susceptibility of the host. We have been using high-throughput, next generation sequencing technology to analyse the impact of plant disease responses on the microbiome. Direct community sequencing-based approaches negate the need to culture microbes and allow taxonomic diversity of communities as a whole to be compared. Agricultural treatments are also likely to have a significant impact on the ecology of the plant phyllosphere. This project will use next generation sequencing technology to examine the effects of treatments such as pesticide, bactericide, fungicide, and even herbicide and fertiliser treatments on the phyllosphere microbial community. It will also examine the potential for probiotic treatment / microbiota transfer to help restore phyllosphere microbial homeostasis.

Research Pages - Dr Paul Devlin

Dr Alessandra Devoto

Sustainable biomass and high-value chemical production and stress responses in crops

This study aims to investigate several aspects of the control of plant defences and to identify environmentally friendly forms of plant protectants, leading to enhanced crop yields. We aim to elucidate host processes and components required for the growth and reproduction of different plant microbes to uncouple stress-induced growth in crop species. Investigating more thoroughly and pinpointing what an invading microorganism does to be able to bypass or inactivate the host plant defences will open up the possibility to engineer crops to gain ‘natural immunity’. The expression of molecular markers such as genes expressed during pathogenesis will be characterized. We will also elucidate host processes linked with microbial growth to uncover cellular and metabolic changes associated with their demands (Noir et al, 2013, Plant Physiology 161: 1930-1951). This research will also further our understanding of biomass production and its regulation in response to stress to improve cell wall accessibility in biofuel feedstocks from different plants (Cook C, Devoto A, 2011, J Sci Food Agr, 91:1729-1732). The project will use high-throughput functional genomics including molecular and cell biology techniques including functional transient assays as well as bioinformatics.

Novel biotechnological routes to discovering phytopharmaceuticals in plants

The plant hormone jasmonic acid induces the biosynthesis of defence proteins and protective secondary metabolites. Pathways with potential for the production of therapeutic drugs will be manipulated with the dual aim of developing a greater understanding of the metabolism involved, that is often related to plant defence, and to develop small molecules or precursors for new medicines. Success in manipulating the targeted metabolic pathways will be analyzed through a novel functional screening system. The analysis of diverse plant lines will improve the understanding of key pathways leading to the production of economically important compounds acting as toxins, antimalarial, or antineoplastic drugs in planta or even as important nutrients. The project offers the opportunity to become familiar with approaches and techniques of wide applicability such as functional genomics and transcriptomics as well as molecular biology and protein engineering. We will establish the role of newly identified molecular components of jasmonate (JA)-mediated stress and development (Noir et al, 2013, Plant Physiology 161: 1930-1951; Balbi and Devoto, 2008, New Phytologist, 177: 301-318). This project will contribute to identifying the link between plant growth and responses to stress and will lead to the discovery of regulators with the potential to engineer stress signalling pathways.

Research Pages - Dr Devoto 

Professor Paul Fraser

Industrial Biotechnology: A synthetic Biology approach to the production of high value isoprenoids in renewable hosts

Plant and microbial natural products have been utilised by human civilisation for millennia, providing vital medicines and essential dietary components. More recently bioactive compounds from plant sources have been used in cosmetics, as health supplements and are important components of food and feedstuffs. Phytochemicals are also important industrial raw materials and high-value fine chemicals. Despite the significant investments made in combinatory chemical synthesis, these platforms have not delivered the desperately needed new activities and/or sources of complex structures found in nature. Chemical synthesis is also expensive and typically associated with chemical refineries using non-renewable energy sources and byproducts.

Terpenoids or isoprenoids are a class of compounds within which specific compounds have anti-cancer activity, confer health benefits, are natural colorants, and feed supplements. The present markets for isoprenoid compounds such as ketocarotenoids which are natural colorants and antioxidants are over a one billion dollar per annum, with demand far exceeding supply (Marz, 2006, Bussiness report. Global Market for carotenoids, Norwalk CT, USA: Business Communications Company).

In the proposed project the applicant will (i) characterise existing transgenic plants and microorganisms producing high value bioactive natural products using modern omic technologies and (ii) generated and evaluate new biosources of these compounds using synthetic biology approaches.

Characterisation of staple crops (banana, yam, sweet potato and cassava) by metabolite profiling

Banana (Musa spp.), Cassava, Yam and Sweet potato are one of the top ten staple foods in the developing world and a target for international development to genetically enhance these crops. The proposed project will augment on-going plant breeding programmes in Africa, Asia and South America, designed to improve consumer traits in banana fruit. The applicant will perform metabolite profiling on well characterised segregating populations and integrate this metabolite information with genetic data. QTL underlying traits and candidate genes will then be characterised in transient and other fruit systems. The applicant will be provided with a unique opportunity to interact with research programmes aimed at combating food insecurity and poverty in developing countries.

Research Pages - Professor Fraser
Project pages - www.metapro.eu and www.multibiopro.eu 

Professor Gerhard Leubner

Molecular and hormonal mechanisms underpinning seed technologies applied to crop, flower and vegetable seeds by industry

The aim of this project is to determine the mechanisms which are underlying seed enhancement technologies to achieve rapid and uniform germination and seedling establishment. These technologies include seed priming, sorting, pelleting and the inclusion of various additives. Examples for the effects include the release of seed dormancy of vegetable and flower seeds, the control of aging processes during sugarbeet and onion seed storage and the benefits of priming to improve abiotic stress responses and vigour during germination and pre-emergence seedling growth (see projects on our PURE website below). The underlying mechanisms include regulation by altered hormonal contents and signalling and epigenetic changes leading to distinct transcriptome expression patterns. Very little is known about these mechanisms and therefore the optimisation of the seed enhancement technologies and their application to specific crop species is hampered. In the project we will investigate crop seed enhancement technologies with modern molecular, biochemical, microscopical and biophysical methods to understand how embryo growth, dormancy release and germination speed, uniformity and vigour are improved. This project is at the interface of fundamental and applied seed biology and engineering.

Molecular mechanisms of gene expression during weed seed dormancy, germination and persistence in the soil seed bank

The sustainable intensification of food production necessary to feed the world’s growing population will only be achievable if crop harvest losses due to heat stress and due to competition with weeds are minimised. About 10% of crop production is currently lost to weeds and this loss would be far greater without the use of herbicides. However, the continued effectiveness of herbicide technology is threatened by the rapid advance of weed biotypes that are resistant to herbicides. The problem of effective weed control is most severe in annual field crop systems and with annual weeds which emerge at the same time as the crop seedlings. These problem weeds owe their success, at least in part, to the formation of large and persistent soil seed banks. Thus there is considerable potential for novel weed control solutions through engaging a deeper understanding of the molecular mechanisms of weed seed germination and survival. In the project we will focus on hormone-related mechanisms which mediate the environmental responses of weed seeds. Seed hormones will be quantified and the expression of corresponding genes analysed in the seeds of a variety of noxious weeds and in response to temperature as environmental factor. This project is in collaboration with Syngenta and at the interface of fundamental and applied seed science.

Biochemical and biophysical analysis of endosperm weakening and coat dormancy

The aim of this project is to determine the mechanisms by which substances in the seed coats of many plant species determine coat-imposed seed dormancy as well as the speed and uniformity of seed germination. These include possible roles in determining the biophysical properties of the seed coat, including its mechanical strength/resistance and permeability to water, oxygen or plant hormones, and the possibility that mobile metabolites may directly increase embryo dormancy during development or suppress embryo germination upon imbibition. Mutant and trangenic lines and natural variation of cress (Lepidum spp) and wheat (Triticum aestivum) affected in the seed coats and methods to directly measure puncture force, extensibility and permeability of the outer seed layers will be used, together with immunofluorescence microscopical analysis of cell-wall epitopes. These methods require a suitable seed size which is met by the species under study and we have verified the feasibility of our techniques. We further propose to investigate how the biophysical properties are altered at different ambient temperatures during seed imbibition and how this affects embryo growth, endosperm weakening, coat dormancy and germination speed and uniformity.

Research Pages - Professor Leubner

Project pages 'The Seed Biology Place

Dr Enrique Lopez

Developmental biology of leaf initiation in the light

Leaves are light-capturing organs that develop from a group of “stem cells” (meristamatic cells) at the tip of plant shoots. The development of leaves initially involves active cell proliferation, followed by differentiation, and in dicot plants it occurs only in the light: light acts as a cell proliferation and development switch. We seek to understand how this takes place. This project will follow on our previous studies, using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, that have shown that leaf initiation in the light coincides with (1) a substantial rearrangement of hormonal responses at the shoot meristem and (2) an activation of a “feast”, or repression of a “starvation” pathway. You will use existing or newly-isolated Arabidopsis mutants in these pathways, in an attempt to generate a mutant combination that exhibits de-repression of leaf initiation, or accelerated leaf growth in the light. You will select one element of this network to focus on. You will also attempt to connect these pathways to cell cycle activation.   You will utilise molecular genotyping, microscopic image-analysis, and gene expression techniques

Genes involved in chloroplast biogenesis

Chloroplast build-up is also essential for the photosynthetic production that drives plant growth, and that ultimately produces our food. Chloroplasts are built primarily while meristematic cells differentiate into leaf mesophyll cells. Through mutant screens in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, we have identified in the past genes whose function is essential for chloroplast biogenesis, or whose dysfunction rescues prior defects in chloroplast development (positive elements or negative regulators of chloroplast biogenesis, respectively). In this project you will focus on one of these genes, confirm its subcellular localisation and examine potential mechanisms of action, through examination of molecular and cellular phenotypes of the mutants and through generation of plants with elevated levels of the selected gene.

Research Pages - Dr Lopez  

Dr Tony Stead

Providing better quality cut flowers

There are several stages, both pre- and post-harvest, which can adversely affect the quality of cut flowers purchased by the consumer. These range from the growing conditions, specialist post-harvest treatments, transport conditions, in-store treatment as well as the vase treatments in the home. Current projects are looking at the effect of light quality on pigmentation and flower opening, treatments to wash in-store buckets as well as the composition of the vase solution. We have a particular interest in Alstroemeria, Dahlia and roses; we are also studying chill-sensitivity in potted plants such as Phalenopsis

Improving the quality of culinary herbs.

The benefits of healthy eating are well known, have you eaten your 5 portions of fruit and veg today? What is often overlooked is that herbs can provide a significant quantity of beneficial antioxidants or similar compounds. Ironically the consumer perception of which type of herb (pot-grown, cut leaf, dried etc) is best is usually wrong but it does indicate that improvements can be made to the quality of UK-grown pot herbs. These improvements relate to the growing conditions, particularly temperature, light quality and the presence of symbiotic mycorrhizae or other biostimulants. We are also concerned about improving chill tolerance in basil, and improving volatile levels produced by many culinary herbs.

Replacing peat in horticulture

Most potted plants (herbs and ornamentals) rely on peat-based composts although over 60% of peat consumption is by amateur, not professional, growers nevertheless the Government has set targets for banning the use of peat due to its continued extraction being unsustainable and environmentally damaging, thus a replacement has to be found. We have been working with both commercial growers and the Royal Horticultural Society to try and find replacements for peat that do not compromise plant growth.

All of this research is applied but often involves elucidating underlying mechanisms this has involved the use of microarrays and RNAseq to study gene expression studies as well as PCR techniques. Some work has involved microscopy using both light and electron microscopy. Some projects may have commercial sponsors that may contribute to the costs of the work and/or provide a small student bursary.

Research pages - Dr Stead 


Information on current tuition fees and other relevant financial information is available on our fees and funding page.
Bursaries are available on a competitive basis to partially offset the fee. For some of the projects Research Council and Institutional Funding might be available.        


Before applying you will need to peruse and then identify up to 2 academic staff members or up to four projects from the list above. Once you have identified your area of interest, you should contact the potential supervisors via e-mail  to discuss details of the projects. 

When you have made contact and chosen the projects you are interested in, please list these in the 'Supporting Statements' area of the on line application.  Enter the titles of up to 4 projects in the 'enter details' option of the Research Proposal section of this tab.


We would be grateful if when uploading your supporting documents you can also include a current CV

To request a hard copy of the Royal Holloway postgraduate prospectus, please contact us. The prospectus can also be viewed onlineApplications should be made online before 25th July.

The latest version of our course specification can be found here.   

Advice for overseas applicants on How to apply for a UK study visa

Applicant details will be made available to Royal Holloway staff and any interested parties such as collaborators and funding bodies



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