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Understanding the genetic basis of asparagine accumulation during environmental stress and its impact on food quality

Lead supervisor: Dr Mark Wilkinson ( and Professor Nigel Halford (

Location: Rothamsted Research

Duration: 8 weeks

A funded opportunity is available for an undergraduate student in a quantitative discipline such as mathematics, computing, physical sciences or engineering (subject to eligibility criteria below) to contribute to a study to improve our understanding of how climate change may affect pollination.

Plant stress reduces both the quantity and quality of crops, compromising our efforts to achieve and maintain food security. Accumulation of the amino acid asparagine is a physiological response of many different plant species to environmental stress. This is particularly problematic in wheat, as asparagine is the major precursor to the probable carcinogen acrylamide in wheat-based food products. Consequently, we are trying to better understand asparagine accumulation in wheat so that we can reduce this risk in agricultural systems.

The research experience placement will help to reveal the genetic basis of asparagine accumulation by quantitative trait loci analysis (QTL). This analysis links certain complex phenotypes to specific regions of chromosomes. The research will entail the identification of quantitative trait loci related to this trait and measurement of gene expression in response to different environmental stressors. The student will gain valuable experience in data collection, R programming, and a range of molecular biology skills. There will also be the opportunity to assist with the fieldwork as part of a larger project, depending on the student’s preferences.

The project will last 8 weeks in the months of July and August, to enable fieldwork experience to be gained, and you will be supported by a student stipend of National Living Wage from the NERC Envision Research Experience Placement scheme. This paid research placement is an exciting opportunity to gain experience in practical laboratory techniques, data analysis techniques and critical thinking skills, all while developing your CV.


To apply, please send a short cover letter (less than one A4 page) and a CV to and by 7th June 2021. Applicants must also complete the online EDI form (this form is a mandatory part of the application process, but contains ‘prefer not to say’ options for all questions asked).

We particularly welcome applications from students from under-represented backgrounds and those with non-traditional routes to university.

Please note the eligibility criteria, selected students must meet all of the following criteria to be eligible for a REP. The students must:

  • Be undertaking your first undergraduate degree studies (or integrated Masters).
  • Be applying for a placement in a different department to your undergraduate degree
  • Be eligible for subsequent NERC PhD funding (PhD studentships eligibility criteria)