6 PhD candidate positions in the NWO/XL project WOODLIG, The Netherlands

Project description:

Environmental and genetic drivers of wood and lignin formation in flowering plants (WOODLIG)

Lignin is a plant biopolymer that is abundantly present in the cell walls of so-called lignified cells. Cell wall lignification occurs during cell differentiation and provides mechanical support to the plant body, facilitates long-distance water transport, or prevents water loss. Lignin molecules are most abundantly present inside wood tissue that is produced by a layer of undifferentiated cells in the plant root or stem. The life cycle of woody species is generally much longer than that of herbaceous species, with slower growth and a more extended juvenile period before flowering.

Thus, wood formation is linked to other developmental features, such as flowering time, but the genetic basis for the coupling of woodiness to other developmental aspects is yet unknown. Lignin (and wood) can also be induced by stress conditions, such as drought. However, the regulatory mechanisms underlying drought-induced lignification are mainly unknown.

Increased lignin deposition in plant cell walls as well as increased wood formation in stems and roots have been suggested as a key strategy for drought tolerance. Drought tolerance is currently a key trait in crop breeding, as traditionally productive agricultural areas suffer heavily from recurring and more intensive drought cycles across the globe. At the same time, as lignified wood tissue is a major constituent of agricultural residues, we should take advantage of its value in the biobased economy in terms of residue valorisation.

Indeed, lignin has high potential in applications such as glues and asphalt, meaning that increased lignin content provides opportunities for replacement of fossil‐derived products by left‐over plant parts of more drought resilient crops.

In this WOODLIG project, the 6 PhD students will work as part of a consortium together with a technician at respectively Leiden University, Naturalis (Leiden), Wageningen University and Groningen University. We aim to answer the following key questions:

  1. PhD1, What are the genes and their interactions that control lignification and wood formation in stems of flowering plants? (Offringa lab LU à Link)
  2. PhD2, What are the genetic drivers of enhanced woodiness and can we uncouple woodiness from other traits regulated by these genes? (Bemer/Angenent lab WUR à Link)
  3. PhD3, Does increased stem woodiness or lignification lead to enhanced drought resilience? (Lens Lab Naturalis à Link)
  4. PhD 4, What are the transcription factors and gene regulatory networks involved in drought-induced lignification/woodiness? (Balazadeh lab LU à Link)
  1. PhD5, What are the key factors underlying the genetic basis of lignin structure and functionalities and how do these modulate lignification? (Trindade lab WUR à Link)
  2. PhD6, What does the chemical structure of lignin in woody or drought resilient plants look like and can we use it? (Deuss lab RUG à Link)

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