Engineering more water-use efficient crops: functional genomics of CO2 fixation during Crassulacean acid metabolism


The world is getting hotter and drier due to climate change, and the human population is growing rapidly. Furthermore, it has been predicted that we will need to increase crop yields by 50 - 70 % by 2050 in order to feed the predicted 9 - 10 billion people. This extra food production has to be achieved using the same land and the same or less fresh water relative to the water used by agriculture today.

Achieving such dramatic advances in crop productivity, to underpin human food security this century, is widely regarded as a key global grand challenge that requires ground-breaking, innovative approaches that "think outside the box". Our research aims to leverage a naturally occurring super-charged adaptation of photosynthesis called Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM). CAM can enhance plant water use efficiency well beyond that of any of today's major food crop species such as rice, wheat or maize. Through decoding genomes and transcriptomes, and undertaking functional genomics research in model CAM species in the genus Kalanchoë, our work is establishing the minimal parts list for engineering CAM into C3 crops to enhance water use efficiency and photosynthesis.

This project will leverage our recent discoveries by exploring the genes involved in CAM using transgenic approaches to switch genes off or on. In particular, we seek to understand how the endogenous circadian clock signals to the CAM system to ensure dark and light specific biochemical steps happen at the correct time. This PhD will allow the student to make a key contribution to our understanding of the genetic elements associated with CAM and its optimal temporal regulation.

The student will also become accomplished in plant transformation and the techniques required for the detailed molecular, biochemical and physiological characterisation of the generated transgenic lines.

The project is suited to a student with at least a good BSc Upper Second Class Honours Degree in Biological Sciences (in particular students that have specialised in plant biology).


Please note: applications will be reviewed until a suitable candidate is appointed. The deadline may therefore be subject to change.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Self-funded project

The project is open to both European/UK and International students. It is UNFUNDED and applicants are encouraged to contact the Principal Supervisor directly to discuss their application and the project. 

Assistance will be given to those who are applying to international funding schemes. 

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses as well as research costs of £15,000 per year. 

A £2000 ISMIB Travel and Training Support Grant may be available to new self-funded applicants who are paying for their own tuition fees

Details of costs can be found on the University website:



  • Susanna F Boxall, Nirja Kadu, Louisa V Dever, Jana Kneřová, Jade L Waller, Peter J D Gould and James Hartwell (2020) Kalanchoë PPC1 is Essential for Crassulacean Acid Metabolism and the Regulation of Core Circadian Clock and Guard Cell Signaling Genes. The Plant Cell, 32, 1136 – 1160.
  • Susanna F Boxall, Louisa V Dever, Jana Kneřová, Peter D. Gould and James Hartwell (2017) Phosphorylation of Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase Is Essential for Maximal and Sustained Dark CO2 Fixation and Core Circadian Clock Operation in the Obligate Crassulacean Acid Metabolism Species Kalanchoë fedtschenkoi. The Plant Cell 29, 2519-2536
  • James Hartwell, Louisa V Dever, Susanna F Boxall (2016) Emerging model systems for functional genomics analysis of Crassulacean acid metabolism. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 31, 100-108.