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Plant-based solutions for tackling metal pollution in our environment

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Closing date: Wednesday 29th May 2024, 23:59)

FUNDING: (October 2024 start - October 2028 finish): 4 year full-time PhD studentship (this covers all university tuition fees and research project costs, plus £19,237/year tax free ‘stipend’ for living expenses)
Open to: UK students only, with at least a 2:1 undergraduate degree (and/or equivalent experience) in a relevant subject area, and with widening access eligibility.
Keywords: molecular biology, transcriptomics, bioinformatics, synthetic plant biology

We want to recruit an enthusiastic and motivated graduate into our scientific team to explore how plants can be used to remediate and recover valuable metals from the soil. This is important across the planet in order to detoxify areas of land for food use, health benefits, and to add to the finite source of precious metals, such as nickel, that go towards producing things like electric car batteries. Thus, the student will work in an area that has the potential to be hugely impactful for cleaning up pollution and lowering carbon emissions, particularly in developing countries.

The successful student will work on plants in the willow family (Salix spp.), which in geologically nickel-rich tropical regions have evolved the ability to hyperaccumulate levels of nickel in their tissues that would be toxic for many other plant species. This exciting innate ability now needs to be optimised to produce plants for commercial use. The Rylott Group will provide the student with the skills and support they need to collect and analyse data on this mechanism of ‘phytoremediation’ in willows, and investigate ways to transfer it to other members of the willow family. A great opportunity for anyone interested in bioinformatics, biochemistry, plants, or biotechnology.

Your PhD community


Liz completed a degree at the University of Manchester in Applied Plant Science and then a PhD at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. In June 1999 Liz arrived in York, first as a postdoctoral researcher with Prof. Ian Graham and then Prof. Ian Bruce, before going on to become a lecturer in 2022. The Centre for Novel Agricultural Products was formed in 1999 with an initial £20 million grant to work on harnessing nature to solve real-world problems in food production, climate change, land use, and the commercial use of plants in biotechnology. CNAP works with researchers from across the world in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, India, China, and Malaysia.

Liz (and co-supervisor James Chong) have combined expertise in developing plants for environmental remediation, microbial ecology, and metagenomics. You will work alongside an experienced postdoc in Liz’s group, and a bioinformatician, both of whom will provide support for the entire duration of your PhD studies. As a student at the University of York you will also be supported with a Thesis Advisory Panel to keep you on track with data generation, research questions, and writing your thesis. You will be part of an active community of >100 PhD students in the Biology Department, plus >120 postdoctoral scientists and around 30 highly skilled technical staff.

A focus on technical skill development

As well as learning about the biology of phytoremediation, we will support you to learn a number of key technical skills during your PhD. When you first begin in Liz’s team, existing lecture and workshop teaching in relevant undergraduate subject modules and training courses will be made available, alongside key primary research articles, so that you can develop a theoretical understanding. You will then also have the ability to work in our Technology Facility with experienced technical staff in order to get a practical understanding of the research skills you will need, including bioinformatics and basic molecular biology techniques. This will create a strong mentorship network for you as you start to generate your own data. Additionally, there will be opportunities to liaise with key stakeholders in academia, industry and wider audiences, and travel to international conferences.