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Reference CTP-SAI-064

Understanding genotypic variation in potato hybrid populations of root morphological and anatomical characteristics – identifying traits for a climate resilient potato.

Reference CTP-SAI-064

Understanding genotypic variation in potato hybrid populations of root morphological and anatomical characteristics – identifying traits for a climate resilient potato.

Prof Tim George, The James Hutton Institute.
Dr Darren Wells, University of Nottingham
Dr Jonathan Atkinson, University of Nottingham
Dr MIchiel de Vries, Solynta
Dr Edwin van der Vossen, Solynta


There is increasing pressure on agriculture to be resilient to climate change and sustainable in use of resources. Despite high water use efficiency, potatoes are considered inefficient in acquiring water and nutrients and often require irrigation and inputs of fertilizers. This is potentially because they are considered to have a sparse and relatively ineffective rooting system. This project will use a unique diploid hybrid breeding population of potatoes (Solynta) to understand the genetic control and physiology of the potato root system. To take full advantage of the potential benefits of hybrid true potato seeds, which enables direct sowing or seedling-based transplanting, there is a need for (young) plants to be resilient for abiotic stresses caused by variable environments.


The project will have three main objectives with experimentation to; 1) elucidate the underlying physiology of the potato rooting system, 2) screen for genotypic variability in any identified traits for enhanced resource capture and 3) test the performance of genotypes with greatly differing rooting phenotypes in simulated future stress environments.

Experimentation to elucidate the function of the different root types will concentrate on the use of tracers for water and common macronutrients using O18 stable isotope probing or heavy water and imaging experiments (PET, tracing labelled amino acids) to ascertain the delivery of resources from different roots to tuber development via stolons. Such experiments can be followed-up with focused Synchrotron imaging/spectrometry to validate physiological findings with additional external funding for beam time.

Once physiological differences between root types have been established, the candidate will screen germplasm provided by the commercial partner (Solynta) for the identified traits of interest e.g. stolon root length, suberin deposition and anatomical traits using a combination of conventional root analysis methods and cutting-edge techniques available to the partners from the University of Nottingham at the Hounsfield facility, including X-Ray CT to image root system architectural traits in-situand LAT (Laser Ablation Tomography) to phenotype anatomical traits such as cell file number, cell type, size and distribution, suberin deposition and aerenchyma formation. This will also involve some software development using deep machine learning approaches for image analysis and data extraction.

Finally, the project will validate the function of the phenotypes identified by comparing extreme varieties in their ability to capture resources in simulated future environments. Using the newly commissioned Advanced Plant Growth Centre at Hutton, the candidate will test the selected germplasm under future climate scenarios with variation in water availability, increased atmospheric temperature and elevated CO2allowing quantification of gene expression profiles in a variety of environments. Physiological traits identified in the project will then be available to potentially identify genetic markers for future breeding programmes.


The student will be registered with the University of Nottingham and will be based at Nottingham early in the project, with time at Hutton for later experiments. There will also be opportunities to gain experience at the commercial partner Solynta in the Netherlands


Students will have access to training in key root phenotyping and physiological function techniques (including X-ray CT, PET, Laser Ablation Tomography, stable isotope probing) and 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. Candidates will also have access to wide range of training opportunities at both Hutton and University of Nottingham. 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 Tim George ( 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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