PhD project

Heat shapes plant growth - unravelling crosstalk between temperature and hormone signalling pathways in the control of leaf development

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Application deadline

31 March 2024

Ambient temperature has profound effects on almost all aspects of plant development, from the onset of seed germination and seedling establishment to flower and fruit production, and thereby also impacts crop quality and yield. With the progression of climate change, plants in temperate regions are challenged by more frequent heat waves as well as an overall rise in ambient temperature. Elucidating the mechanisms by which plants sense and respond to elevated temperatures is vital to fully understand how climate change will affect plant growth in the future and may also indicate ways to mitigate negative effects of rising temperatures on crop production. 

In the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, elongation of roots, stems and petioles are among the best understood responses to high temperature. A signalling network has been identified that controls these processes by modulating the production, distribution and sensing of several plant hormones, auxin and brassinosteroids in particular (1). High temperatures also trigger morphological changes in the leaf, but here, the roles of phytohormones are less well understood. 

In this project, you will employ genetic, pharmacological and molecular biology approaches to elucidate the role of several phytohormones in the temperature-dependent control of leaf morphology in Arabidopsis. You will analyse phenotypic changes in leaf morphology caused by perturbations in hormone level and perception at different temperatures. You will monitor alterations in hormone distribution and signalling by confocal microscopy, using the newest generation of hormone reporters and biosensors (2). You will link these to changes in gene expression and thereby establish a causal relationship between temperature signals, hormonal cascades and alterations in plant development. 

This project will train you in a wide range of technical skills including fundamental genetics and molecular biology as well as advanced confocal microscopy. Through the project you will gain an in-depth understanding of experimental design, quality control and statistical analysis of results, but also develop critical thinking and scientific scrutiny. You will have the opportunity to communicate your findings in departmental seminars and at scientific conferences, to participate in outreach activities and to substantially contribute to publishing your research. At the end of the PhD, these technical and transferrable skills will leave you excellently positioned to pursue a career in academia, industry, or another science-related field. 

You will be supervised by Dr Martin Balcerowicz (, a Royal Society University Research Fellow with extensive expertise in plant temperature signalling (3). You will be based at the James Hutton Institute, a diverse and collaborative research environment that hosts the University of Dundee’s Plant Science Department and is the site of several exciting research developments, including the Advanced Plant Growth Centre (APGC), the International Barley Hub (IBH), a Molecular Phenotyping Centre and a super-resolution imaging platform. 



(1) Lu et al., 2021, Stress Biology 10.1007/s44154-021-00022-1 

(2) Balcerowicz et al., 2021, Plant Physiol. 10.1093/plphys/kiab278 

(3) Chung, Balcerowicz et al., 2020, Nat. Plants 10.1038/s41477-020-0633-3 

How to apply

This project is open to self-funded and externally sponsored applicants, standard entry dates are January and September but we will consider applications year round. If you are interested in applying, please contact the supervisor directly in the first instance to discuss further, principal supervisors will ask you about your qualifications and your research experience to determine your suitability for the project. You will also be asked to indicate how you intend to fund your PhD (PhD fee information can be found here).

For general enquiries, contact


Principal supervisor