Research Project: Drought tolerance and its evolution in conifer trees


Professor John MacKay; Imam Sayyed


Project Description 

The project will investigate the molecular genetics of drought tolerance in conifer trees as a basis for sustainably intensifying forest production and managing adaptation to climate change. The research involves analyses at a broad evolutionary scale and targeted study of the germplasm used in UK plantation forestry. Recent research shows that several conifers in the pine family respond to drought through ABA-dependent control of water transpiration, while conifers in the yew family and the cypress family have evolved an ABA-independent pathway. The project aims to develop a model for the evolution of drought resistance in these conifers, and identify gene networks and genetic variations that underpin these distinct drought response pathways. The research will use genomic analyses based on RNA-sequencing as well as monitoring ABA levels and water potential to identify molecular and physiological differences between ABA dependent and independent responses in trees grown under controlled conditions after exposure to drought. Work during the industry placement will aim to translate knowledge on drought by analysing patterns of genetic variation in the germplasm used in plantation forestry in the UK. The expected outcomes will form the basis for breeding, tree selections and management strategies to improve the resilience to drought in timber crop trees.

This project is supported through the Oxford Interdisciplinary Bioscience Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) studentship programme. The student recruited to this project will join a cohort of students enrolled in the DTP’s interdisciplinary training programme, and will be able to take full advantage of the training and networking opportunities available through the DTP. For further details please visit


Student Profile

The candidate will have a degree in biological sciences including plant sciences, zoology, biology, biochemistry, forest biology, agronomy, or others and a desire to study plants. A strong interest in evolutionary genomics and plant adaptation is essential. An ability to carry out or rapidly learn how to conduct analyses on large datasets and apply methods computational biology is also essential. An interest in plant physiology and experience in basic molecular biology methods is also desirable. 


Funding Notes

This project is funded for four years by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council BBSRC. BBSRC eligibility criteria for studentship funding applies ( Successful students will receive a stipend of no less than the standard RCUK stipend rate, currently set at £14,553 per year, which may be supplemented by the industrial partner.