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Reference CTP-SAI-063

Shining light on Potato: can light treatments accelerate breeding and reduce fungicide usage?

Reference CTP-SAI-063

Shining light on Potato: can light treatments accelerate breeding and reduce fungicide usage?

Dr Eleanor Gilroy (James Hutton Institute),
Dr Gabriela Toledo-Ortiz (James Hutton Institute)
Dr Ingo Hein (University of Dundee)


Research into the responses of crops to different light inputs offers unique opportunities to study disease defence responses and important physiological processes. In potatoes, we have evidence that indicates that pathogens such as late blight use specific effectors to perturb host pathways associated with light reception to facilitate infection. Further, crop treatment with blue, red, and far-red light significantly alters the speed of pathogen infection, highlighting the importance of light quality as an environmental stimulus that contributes to defence. For example, red light treatment has been shown to significantly reduce Potato Late Blight disease severity and speed up host SA-based resistance responses (Naqvi et al., 2022).

Further, light is an important signal for flower and/or tuber development in potatoes. Growing long-day adapted potatoes under intense light for 22 hours significantly expedites the time from emergence to flower development which is used in ‘speed-breeding’ or winter crossing facilities. Plants grown under such conditions further reveal significant differences in their height, foliage weight, tuber numbers and mean weight.

However, not all potatoes respond equally to these conditions. Taking advantage of the diversity of potatoes within the Commonwealth Potato Collection, the CPC, we can sample plants that originate from distinct environments and assess their responses to light. The diversity includes species that grow at sea level, high altitudes, deserts and cloud forests and thus have adapted to very different environments including light quality and availability. Importantly, the development of flexible LED technologies allows us to design different light environments to assess the adaptability potential of diverse Solanum species.

This project aims to help understanding how light signals combine to regulate the growth and life cycle of Solanum species and the impact on immune induction.  In addition to understanding the mechanistic and molecular components of potato responses to distinct light inputs, this project has the potential to deliver improved methodologies that reduce crop production timing, deliver sturdy material for transplantation and enhance tolerance to biotic stressors, contributing to a more sustainable potato production.


The PhD project has three clear objectives in understanding how light wavelengths affect potato physiology and disease resistance:-

1) Applied knowledge on the use of light responsiveness to facilitate speed breeding

This includes the design of light recipes using photobiology principles and machine learning to optimize growing conditions for accelerated potato flowering and tuberization across different potato species, cultivars. We will further study the photosynthetic rates of adapted potatoes in response to different lights.

2) Mechanistically Study the impact of light treatments on plant

To understand the mechanical impact of light responses, we will evaluate transcriptional changes via RNAseq on leaves sampled from light treated Solanums and phytohormones.

3) Identifying light treatments that elicit defence responses in potato.

Here we will Investigate how we can use light recipes and machine learning to define the best growing conditions for inducing plant resistance without negative impacts on plant development. This study will take advantage of different pathogen collections that are available at the Hutton and include late blight, PCN and viruses.


The PhD student will be registered with University of Dundee and based at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee


The student will gain experience in genetics, plant physiology, plant pathology and photobiology. They will have an excellent opportunity to work with experienced scientists in a supportive atmosphere on site at the James Hutton Institute and interact closely with other teams associated with Potato breeders in JHL. The student will also work within the new facilities of the Advanced Plant Growth Centre and interact with a number of companies that design, manufacture and utilize light technologies at the JHI site. The student will become part of a tight group of potato scientists that make up the National Potato Innovation Centre (NPIC). Furthermore, the student will be part of Dundee University’s Division of Plant Sciences and benefit from the facilities and training opportunities at the Dundee University campus.

Students will have access to training in key bioscience areas (bioinformatics, statistics and mathematics) to enhance employability and research capability.

The CTP – SAI ( is a groundbreaking partnership between leading businesses, charities and research providers offering outstanding training for the agri-food sector

All CTP-SAI students will receive the Leadership and Management training provided by MDS ( and will create their Personal Development Plan (PDP) to identify their development needs and areas of strength. Each student will receive individual coaching and mentoring with regards to their career plans and skills development (in addition to the scientific project supervision).


Placements are a key feature of CTP and UKRI-BBSRC expects all doctoral candidates on a CTP programme to undertake a placement. Placements can be in the form of research placements (3-18 months duration) or used more flexibly for experiential learning of professional skills for business and/or entrepreneurship. All placements are developed in collaboration between the partners with input from the doctoral candidate.


Contact Dr Eleanor Gilroy ( for an informal discussion on the research content of this PhD.

This studentship will begin in October 2024. The successful candidate should have (or expect to have) an Honours Degree (or equivalent) with a minimum of 2.1 in Plant Science, Applied Statistics, or other related science subjects. Students with an appropriate Masters degree are particularly encouraged to apply.

We welcome UK, EU, and international applicants. Candidates whose first language is not English must provide evidence that their English language is sufficient to meet the specific demands of their study. Candidates should check the requirements for each host organization they are applying to, but IELTS 6.5 (with no component below 6.0) or equivalent is usually the minimum standard.

This studentship is for four years and is fully funded in line with UKRI-BBSRC standard rates. These were for 2023/24, an annual maintenance stipend of £18,622, fee support of £4,596, a research training support grant of £5,000 and conference and UK fieldwork expenses of £300.

To be classed as a home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or

  • Have settled status, or

  • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or

  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an international student and must demonstrate the ability to meet the supplement in fees required for an international student.

Anyone interested should complete the online application form before the deadline of 7th January 2024. interviews will be held during January 2024.

Please contact for further application details.

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