PhD Scholarship in Cereal Blueprints for a Water-Limited World

University of Queensland

PhD Scholarship: ARC Discovery Project - Cereal Blueprints for a Water-Limited World

Apply now Job No:510957

Area:Qld Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation

Salary (FTE):RTP Scholarship NON-BANDED ($28,092.00 - $28,092.00)

Work type:Full Time - Scholarship

Location: St Lucia

Queensland Alliance for Agriculture & Food Innovation

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) is a research institute of the University of Queensland (UQ) which was established in 2010 and comprises of four research Institutes – the Institute for Crop Science, the Institute for Horticultural Science, the Institute for Animal Science and the Institute for Nutrition and Food Sciences.

QAAFI’s team of 450 researchers, postgraduate students and support staff undertake high impact science for agriculture and food industries. The institute’s strong partnership with the Queensland Government provides our researchers with a direct link to the agriculture industry in Queensland, and world class field research facilities throughout Queensland. Agriculture is one of UQ’s highest ranked research fields nationally and internationally and QAAFI is a global leader in agricultural research in subtropical and tropical production systems. QAAFI scientists are driven to make a difference to the agriculture and food industries and have over 150 collaborators worldwide.

Details of the research interests of the Institute may be accessed on the Institute’s web site at 

Information about life at UQ including staff benefits, relocation and UQ campuses is available at - 

Organisational Environment

This PhD position will be based primarily at the University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus, located in central Brisbane. The successful candidate will work with a multi-disciplinary team of scientists (crop physiology, quantitative genetics, genomics, plant breeding, molecular biology, simulation modelling, bioinformatics) from the University of Queensland, Justus Liebig University (Giessen, Germany) and the CSIRO, as part of a Discovery Project titled “Cereal blueprints for a water-limited world” that is funded by the Australian Research Council. The PhD student will interact closely with other students and staff located at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture & Food Innovation (QAAFI) at the University of Queensland’s main campus in St Lucia, Brisbane.

Research Area

Climate change is altering the environments in which all organisms develop. Plant species can adjust to these novel conditions through phenotypic plasticity, adaptation through natural selection, or migrate to follow conditions to which they are adapted (these options are not mutually exclusive). We plan to assess the role of two gene families (PIN and VRN) in two model cereal crops (sorghum and barley) to better understand how these genes might regulate plasticity in above- and below-ground plant architecture, thereby potentially enhancing resistance to abiotic (drought, nutrients) and biotic (disease) stresses.

Sorghum is the dietary staple of more than 500 million people in over 30 countries, making it the world’s fifth most important crop for human consumption after rice, wheat, maize and potatoes. Working in sorghum provides a unique opportunity to link up-stream science to the challenge of global food security. In fact, members of this broader research team are already working with scientists in sub-Saharan Africa and central-western India to improve crop yields under dry conditions. Barley is one of the oldest cultivated crops and the fourth largest cereal crop produced per tonne worldwide. There is an exciting opportunity to make the next leap in drought adaptation of barley by leveraging off existing knowledge of how PIN genes operate in sorghum.

Through this PhD project we seek to demonstrate that key developmental genes in cereals can be manipulated to design plant architecture for specific resource-limited environments. This addresses one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today – producing more food with less water. This research expects to increase understanding of how shoot and root systems can be uncoupled to enhance crop adaptation in water-limited environments using an accelerated genome editing approach. An expected outcome of this research is enhanced drought adaptation for cereals in a dry world. This should provide significant benefits to farmers and consumers in Australia and worldwide.

In particular, this PhD position will focus on physiological aspects of the research, including the screening of transgenic and gene-edited lines of sorghum and barley. Lines containing homozygous mutations will be identified and characterised for key traits determining water demand (tillering, leaf size, conductance), water supply (root angle, number, length & mass) and grain yield (grain number & mass). Root architecture traits will be measured using the ‘clear pot’ root phenotyping platform and minirhizotrons for barley and the root lysimetry platform for sorghum. Transcriptome data will be collected on key transgenic and gene-edited lines. Therefore, this position will require skills in physiology, as well as a sound understanding of other interacting disciplines (e.g. molecular biology, quantitative genetics, genomics & bioinformatics).

The Role

There is an opportunity for a highly motivated PhD student to join the UQ component of this Australian Research Council Discovery Project. The successful candidate will be enrolled at the University of Queensland, and will closely interact with collaborators at the Justus Liebig University (Giessen, Germany) and the CSIRO.

The Person

Applicants will have a First Class Honours degree or equivalent and should be eligible for an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or equivalent.  Basic expertise and experience is required in one or more of the following areas: crop physiology, quantitative genetics or plant molecular biology.  

Applicants must fulfil the PhD admission criteria for the University of Queensland, including English language requirements, and demonstrate excellent capacity and potential for research.  Entry requirements can be found at:

Strong academic performance demonstrated through publication output in peer reviewed international journals is highly desirable.


Appointment to the position is contingent upon receipt of an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship through one of UQ's scholarship rounds.

Prospective students will be provided with assistance to apply for an RTP scholarship.  The current RTP scholarship rate is AUD$28,092 per annum, indexed annually, plus Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC). The scholarship is tax-free for three years with the possibility of a six month extension in approved circumstances.

Upon receiving an RTP scholarship, the successful candidate will also be encouraged to apply for a top-up scholarship, such as those funded by industry or The University of Queensland.

For further information on scholarships please refer to


Further information regarding the project can be obtained by contacting Professor Andrew Borrell, Centre for Crop Science, Hermitage Research Facility, Warwick (

How to apply

To submit an application for this role, please email your application to Professor Andrew Borrell.  

All applicants must supply the following documents:

  • Cover letter,
  • Academic Records (indicating GPA scores/grades, and grading scale details), and
  • Resume/CV.

Please do not click the apply button as your application will not be successfully registered.

Advertised: 29 Jul 2020

Applications close: 31 Aug 2020 (11:00 PM) E. Australia Standard Time