Fully Funded PhD Studentship Position in Building a Barrier to Arsenic Accumulation in Rice at the University of Aberdeen

Fully Funded PhD Studentship Position in the Novel Use of Remote and Molecular Monitoring Tools to Study Plant-Pollinator Interactions in Fruit Crops at the University of Aberdeen

A fully funded Phd studentship position in building a barrier to arsenic accumulation in rice is currently open for application at the University of Aberdeen.

Applications are invited for a fully funded, 42 month PhD studentship commencing in October 2022 at the University of Aberdeen, as part of The newly established Anthony & Margaret Johnston Centre for Doctoral Training in Plant Sciences enabled by a generous legacy gift.


Project Description

Arsenic is a widely distributed toxic element within the environment, with the inorganic forms of arsenic known to be human class 1 carcinogens, causing a range of cancers whilst also giving rise to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. While arsenic in groundwater is estimated to impact ~500 million people from 107 countries, another major route of inorganic arsenic entering the diet is through the consumption of rice, and in areas with low arsenic in drinking water, rice is the major exposure route for arsenic. Rice accumulates more arsenic in its grain than other cereal crops because it is predominantly cultivated in flooded (paddy) soils. Under these conditions the inorganic arsenic is present as arsenite and is highly available to the rice plants.

It has been suggested that root aeration can reduce arsenic accumulation in rice. Mechanistically, the theory proposes radial oxygen loss (ROL) through aerenchyma in rice roots effectively oxidizes the rhizosphere, forming iron plaque which can bind inorganic arsenic. Additionally, the oxidation of the rhizosphere may directly oxidise arsenite to arsenate reducing, arsenite availability and uptake. This project will explore these mechanisms.

The project will utilise the Bengal Assam Aus Panel (BAAP) a population of rice that has been developed to screen for arsenic accumulation. It has been grown in the field and shoot and grain arsenic data collected, however, nothing is known about ROL, root porosity or iron plaque formation in this population. The BAAP consists of 266 rice accessions allowing for genome wide association (GWA) mapping to be performed. GWA allows for rapid screening to identify  genomic regions, quantitative trait loci (QTL), and candidate genes associated with measured traits. This project will screen the BAAP population for ROL, root porosity, and iron plaque coverage of the rice root system.

The output of this project will be a data set on root traits for the BAAP population and the identification of novel QTL and candidate genes for root iron plaque formation, ROL and root porosity that can be utilised in breeding programmes to reduce arsenic accumulation in rice.

This PhD will give the student a wide range of skills in experimental design, genetic mapping, bioinformatics, statistics, and analytical chemistry. A strength of this project is it constitutes three scientific approaches, experimental plant biology, genomics (mapping and bioinformatics) and environmental analytics. It also marries advanced genetic and analytic studies with basic understanding of plant and soil interactions.

Informal enquiries would be welcomed for a discussion. Please contact Dr Gareth Norton () for further information.


Essential background of student:

Essential: A 2:1 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject (e.g. Plant science related degree OR Evolutionary Biology related degree).

If previous background in plant sciences, then a keen interest to learn genetic tools. If background in biology, then a keen interest to in plant sciences.

Desired: Experience with or knowledge of quantitative genetics.


Application Procedures for the Fully Funded PhD Studentship Position :

  • Formal applications can be completed online: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/pgap/login.php
  • You should apply for Biological Sciences (PhD) to ensure your application is passed to the correct team.
  • Please clearly note the name of the supervisor and project title on the application form. If you do not mention the project title and the supervisor on your application it will not be considered for the studentship.
  • Please include a cover letter specific to the project you are applying for, an up-to-date copy of your academic CV, and relevant educational certificates and transcripts.
  • Please note: you DO NOT need to provide a research proposal with this application
  • General application enquiries can be made to 

Funding Notes

This 42 Month PhD project is part of the Anthony & Margaret Johnston Centre for Doctoral Training in Plant Sciences at the University of Aberdeen.
This opportunity is open to UK and International students and includes full funding to cover tuition fees and a stipend at the UKRI rate (£16,062 For the 22/23 academic year).
Funding for international students does not cover visa costs (either for yourself or for accompanying family members), immigration health surcharge or any other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
The expected start date is October 2022.


Application Deadline: 13 June 2022. 


Send email for enquires 


• Norton, G., Travis, A. J., Talukdar, P., Sumon, M. H., Rafiqul, M., Douglas, A., Price, A. H. 2019. Genetic loci regulating arsenic content in rice grains when grown flooded or under alternative wetting and drying irrigation. Rice, 12; 54.
• Norton, G. J., Travis, A. J., Douglas, A., Fairley, S., De Paiva Alves, E., Ruang-areerate, P., Naredo, E., McNally, K. L., Hossain, M., Islam, R., Price, A. H. 2018. Genome Wide Association mapping of grain and straw biomass traits in the rice Bengal and Assam Aus Panel (BAAP) grown under alternate wetting and drying and permanently flooded irrigation. Frontiers in plant science, 9; 1223.
• Tripathi, R. D., Tripathi, P., Dwivedi, S., Kumar, A., Mishra, A., Chauhan, P. S., Norton, G. J., Nautiyal, C. S. 2014. Roles for root iron plaque in sequestration and uptake of heavy metals and metalloids in aquatic and wetland plants. Metallomics, 6; 1789-1800.


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