Engineering a better wheat leaf

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Animal and Plant Sciences


Improving the photosynthetic efficiency of the plant is seen by many as the next frontier in crop breeding. We have characterised a novel trait with the potential for improving photosynthetic efficiency- the cellular architecture of the leaf. Using Arabidopsis and genetic tools to modify leaf structure, we have found that it is possible to increase the maximal rate of leaf photosynthesis by optimising the amount and pattern of airspace. In this project it will be investigated whether these findings in a model plant are applicable to a UK crop with a distinct leaf structure- wheat. Identifying a physical trait functionally related to photosynthetic performance would provide a new target for breeding improved crops.
At the fundamental level we are interested in understanding how patterns of airspace within a leaf dictate or limit gas flux within the leaf. Using a combination of advanced imaging approaches (X-ray micro Computer Tomography and confocal microscopy) and physiology (gas exchange analysis) in the context of an understanding of leaf development, it will be possible to investigate the structure/function relationships of a range of available wheat genetic resources. The project will involve physiology and imaging and the application of these approaches to a fundamental problem in plant developmental biology of direct relevance to crop improvement.
The project will require working as a member of an interdisciplinary team, collaborating with researchers with backgrounds in developmental biology, crop physiology and image analysis aiming to answer questions such as: What are the relationships between leaf structure and function? What is the optimal cellular architecture for a leaf? Can this architecture be selected to improve photosynthesis?


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M016927/1 30/09/2015 29/09/2019
1656695 Studentship BB/M016927/1 30/09/2015 29/09/2019 Matthew James Wilson
Description Wheat leaf structure is essential for function - primarily carrying out photosynthesis. This process relies upon the exchange of CO2 and water vapour. This is not only limited by pores found on the surface of the leaf (named stomata), but additionally, the arrangement and size of airspaces and cells within the leaf have a direct impact photosynthetic gas exchange. The work funded through this award used a variety of physiological and novel 3D imaging techniques to develop a greater understanding of the relationships between wheat leaf structure and function. It was found that there was a positive correlation between stomatal conductance (the rate of diffusion through stomata) and levels of leaf airspace. It was discovered that fully functioning stomata are required for intercellular airspace formation in wheat. Further discoveries resulting from this award are being readied for publication, and it would be expected that these will be published in the near future. The work funded through this award provides new insights into the relationships between stomatal function and leaf differentiation, and provides support to the idea that water use may have been a driver for the evolution of modern bread wheat.
Exploitation Route The methodologies used during this award can be used to investigate alternate crop species/mutant plants and the structure/function relationships of these. There is scope to further investigate any potential stimulus for the formation of airspaces within the wheat leaf after stomatal maturation. There is a potential impact for the breeding of crop varieties which are more tolerant to future environments.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Description UKPPN Travel bursary
Amount £250 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2016 
End 06/2016