Postgraduate research opportunities 

Plant Science PhD/MSc (Research)

Texture of bright green leaf close-up

Our Plant Science research covers topics such as plant-environment interactions, cell signalling, cell and membrane biology, protein structure and function, gene regulation, synthetic biology, systems biology and translational biology.

Research projects

Self funded PhD opportunities

Profiling Differential Regulation of Proton Transport in Plants for Growth, Nutrition and Immunity project

Supervisor: Dr Rucha Karnik 

Project summary

Plant growth and morphogenesis are responsive to environmental stimuli, eg. light, nutrient supply, gravity or pathogen infection. These plant responses are mediated by a complex cascade of signalling events, often driven by plant hormones. Plasma membrane H+-ATPases are primary transporters in plants. These proton pumps are functionally regulated by the plant phytohormone auxin. Activation of the proton pumping energises membrane transport, drives 'acid growth'. The functional regulation of the proton pump activity is a key factor in responses of the plants to their environment including tropic growth and stomatal aperture modulation. Auxin regulates proton pumping at transcriptional and post-translational levels.

Even today, not much is understood about the mechanisms underlying pump traffic and the spatial regulation of proton transport modulators. Plant pathogen are known to manipulate proton pump activity to affect stomatal opening to facilitate infection. Role of membrane traffic in such regulation is not well understood. The findings will open new avenues for future research into mechanisms of plant defence and morphogenesis and will be applied to crop plants for achieving enhanced productivity.

Project aims

  • To investigate the mechanistic aspects of differential regulation of the plant plasma membrane proton pumps during infection.
  • To study how plant immune responses affect plant growth and nutrition. 

Techniques to be used

Techniques in cell biology, proteomics, biochemistry and plant physiology will be used  using Arabidopsis thaliana as model plants. 

Relevant papers

  1. Karnik et al., Trends in Plant Science, 2017 doi:10.1016/j.tplants.2016.10.006
  2. Elmore et al., Molecular Plant, 2011 doi:10.1093/mp/ssq083
  3. Kundal et al., Plant Cell 2017 doi:10.1105/tpc.17.00070
  4. Grefen et al., Nature Plants 2015 doi: 10.1038/nplants.2015.108


Molecular mechanics of clustering and gating in plant ion channels

Outline & aim

The organisation of ion channels in eukaryotic membranes is intimately connected with their activity, but the mechanics of the connections are, in general, poorly understood. Both in animals and plant, many ion channels assemble in discrete clusters that localise within the surface of the cell membrane. The clustering of the GORK channel — responsible for potassium efflux for stomatal regulation in the model plant Arabidopsis — is intimately connected with its gating by extracellular K+. Recent work from this laboratory yielded new insights into the processes linking K+ binding within the GORK channel pore to clustering of the channel proteins.

This project will explore the physical structure of GORK that determines its self-interaction as a function of the K+ concentration with the aim of understanding its integration with the well-known mechanics of channel gating.


The student will gain expertise in molecular biological methods, and a deep grounding in the concepts of membrane transport, cell biology and physiology. Skills training will include in-depth engagement in molecular biology, protein biochemistry and molecular genetic/protein design, single-cell imaging and fluorescence microscopy, and single-cell recording techniques of electrophysiology using heterologous expression in mammalian cell systems and in plants.


  • Lefoulon, et al. (2014) Plant Physiol 166, 950-75
  • Eisenach, et al. (2012) Plant J 69, 241-51
  • Dreyer & Blatt (2009) Trends Plant Sci 14, 383-90


Photoregulation of plant hormone trafficking and signalling

Outline & aim

The phytohormone auxin (indole acetic acid) is instrumental for directing and shaping plant growth and form. Understanding how this chemical growth regulator controls plant development will have important implications for manipulating plant growth for agronomic gain. Auxin trafficking is profoundly influenced by many abiotic factors, including light. For instance, phototropin receptor kinases (phot1 and phot2) function to redirect auxin fluxes that are required to reorientate plant growth toward or away from light. The phot1-interacting protein Non-Phototropic Hypocotyl 3 (NPH3) is essential for establishing these light-driven auxin movements. However, the mode of action of NPH3 and how it functions to regulate transporter activity remains poorly understood.

This project aims to spatially dissect the site(s) of NPH3 action and how it impacts the subcellular trafficking and function of known auxin transporter proteins implicated in phototropism. Work is also focussed on characterising a newly identified NPH3 protein (NPH3-like, NPH3L) that interacts directly with phot1. Functional characterisation of NPH3, NPH3L and its homologues will provide new insights into the photoregulation of auxin trafficking and signalling associated with phototropism and other phototropin-mediated responses.


This proposal is focused on characterising the molecular processes that integrate light and phytohormone signalling, two important agronomic processes associated with manipulating plant growth and optimising photosynthetic efficiency. Both these research areas fall squarely within the strategic priorities of Food Security, Living with Environmental Change and Crop Science. The project will provide excellent training in a range of techniques associated with molecular biology, cell biology, genetics and biochemistry. Training will also be given in key skills including teaching, project-management and science communication. Additionally, the student will have the opportunity to attend and present their research at the international photobiology meetings e.g. Gordon Research Conference in Photosensory Receptors and Signal Transduction, Galveston, Texas in 2016 (which I will chair).


  • CHRISTIE, J.M. (2007) Phototropin blue-light receptors. Annu. Rev. Plant Biol. 58, 21-45.
  • Sullivan, S., Thomson, C.E., Kaiserli, E. and Christie J.M. (2009) Interaction specificity of Arabidopsis 14-3-3 proteins and phototropin receptor kinases. FEBS Lett. 583, 2187-2193.
  • Christie, J.M., Richter, G., Yang, H., Sullivan, S., Thomson, C.E., Lin, J., Tiapiwatanakun, B., Ennis, M. Kaiserli, E., Lee, O.R., Adamec, J., Peer, W.A. and Murphy, A.S. (2011) Phot1 inhibition of ABCB19 primes lateral auxin fluxes in the shoot apex required for phototropism. PLoS Biol., 9(6): e1001076.
  • CHRISTIE, J.M. and MURPHY, A.S. (2013) Shoot phototropism in higher plants: New light through old concepts. Am. J. Bot. 100, 35-46.


Photoregulation of plant hormone trafficking and signalling

Outline & aim

Light is essential for plant growth, development and photoprotection. One of the primary sites where light regulates major cellular processes is the nucleus. We are interested in elucidating how light stimulates the accumulation of photoreceptors and signalling components in nuclear micro-domains to regulate gene expression, chromatin remodelling and DNA damage repair. The student will investigate how nuclear compartmentalisation correlates with changes in the expression of growth promoting genes in response to light.


A series of approaches will be used depending on the interests and background of the applicant: Gene expression analysis (qRT-PCR, ChIP), molecular cloning, protein interactions studies (Y2H, co-immunoprecipitation), protein characterisation (heterologous expression and purification), cell biology (confocal microscopy), plant genetics and plant physiology.


Synthetic biology for enhancing crop water use efficiency

Outline & aim

Stomata are pores that provide for gaseous exchange across the impermeable cuticle of leaves. Stomata exert major controls on the water and photosynthetic carbon cycles of the world and can limit photosynthetic rates by 50% or more when water demand exceeds supply. Guard cells surround the stomatal pore and regulate its aperture. Our deep knowledge of guard cells – much arising from this laboratory – gives real substance to prospects for engineering stomata to improve crop yields under water-limited conditions.

This project will engage the synthetic tools of optobiology with the aim of accelerating stomatal responses to environmental drivers, especially light and water availability, both important for crop production. The project will draw on optobiological switches – notably LOV domain peptides – and will use these to control the gating of key ion channels at the guard cell membrane that are known to drive stomatal movements.


The student will gain expertise in synthetic and molecular biological methods, and a deep grounding in the concepts of membrane transport, cell biology and physiology. Skills training will include in-depth engagement in synthetic molecular biology, protein biochemistry and molecular genetic/protein design, single-cell imaging and fluorescence microscopy and analysis. Additional training may include single-cell recording techniques in electrophysiology and membrane transport.


  • Wang, et al. (2014) Plant Physiol 164,1593-99
  • Lawson & Blatt (2014) Plant Physiol 164, 1556-70
  • Eisenach, et al. (2012) Plant J 69, 241-51



Plant Science at Glasgow is focused on fostering education and training in research to develop sustainable agriculture in an era of global climate change. Our research is centred on exploring how plants respond to their environment to regulate nutrition, water homeostasis, metabolism and various aspects of plant development. Our goal is to apply the knowledge gained from our research to address key issues affecting food security, crop science and technology. Plant Science at Glasgow adopts a multidisciplinary approach within the Institute of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology (MCSB) that covers topics such as plant-environment interactions, cell signalling, cell and membrane biology, protein structure and function, gene regulation, synthetic biology, systems biology and translational biology.

Study options


  • Duration: 3/4 years full-time; 5 years part-time

Projects are typically related to basic science and integrate with our existing research themes, while other projects are focused on translational aspects of our research. A variety of multidisciplinary research approaches are applied within this research programme, including biochemistry, molecular biology, molecular genetics, biophysics, structural biology, systems biology, polyomics (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics), bioinformatics and synthetic biology, as well as cellular imaging of biological functions. Specific areas of interest include:

  • control of gene expression
  • epigenetics and crop improvement
  • temperature sensing
  • plant mineral nutrition
  • protein structure and function
  • responses to salinity and drought
  • light regulation of plant growth and development
  • UV-B perception and signalling
  • nuclear organisation and function
  • stomatal function and water use efficiency
  • ion channel function and membrane transport
  • plant-virus interactions and pest resistance
  • protein engineering and application
  • synthetic manipulation of plant responses

Our PhD programme provides excellent training in cutting edge technologies that will be applicable to career prospects in both academia and industry. Many of our graduates become postdoctoral research associates while others go on to take up positions within industry either locally (e.g. BioOutsource) or overseas (e.g. BASF). We have strong academic connections with many international collaborators in universities and research institutes. Funds are available through the College of MVLS to allow visits to international laboratories where part of your project can be carried out. This provides an excellent opportunity for networking and increasing your scientific knowledge and skill set.

Entry requirements

Awarded or expected First-class or high Upper-Second class BSc degree.

English Language requirements for applicants whose first language is not English.

Fees and funding



  • £4,407 UK/EU
  • £21,920 outside EU

Prices are based on the annual fee for full-time study. Fees for part-time study are half the full-time fee.

Additional fees for all students:

  • Re-submission by a research student £525
  • Submission for a higher degree by published work £1,315
  • Submission of thesis after deadline lapsed £340
  • Submission by staff in receipt of staff scholarship £765

Depending on the nature of the research project, some students will be expected to pay a bench fee (also known as research support costs) to cover additional costs. The exact amount will be provided in the offer letter.

Alumni discount

A 10% discount is available to University of Glasgow alumni. This includes graduates and those who have completed a Junior Year Abroad, Exchange programme or International Summer School at the University of Glasgow. The discount is applied at registration for students who are not in receipt of another discount or scholarship funded by the University. No additional application is required.

Funding for EU students

The UK government has confirmed that EU nationals will remain eligible to apply for Research Council PhD studentships at UK institutions for 2019/20 to help cover costs for the duration of their study. The Scottish Government has confirmed that fees for EU students commencing their studies in 2019/20 and 2020/21 will be at the same level as those for UK students.

2019/20 fees

  • £4,327 UK/EU
  • £21,020 outside EU

Prices are based on the annual fee for full-time study. Fees for part-time study are half the full-time fee.

Additional fees for all students:

  • Re-submission by a research student £500
  • Submission for a higher degree by published work £1,250
  • Submission of thesis after deadline lapsed £320
  • Submission by staff in receipt of staff scholarship £730

Depending on the nature of the research project, some students will be expected to pay a bench fee (also known as research support costs) to cover additional costs. The exact amount will be provided in the offer letter.



The College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences Graduate School provides a vibrant, supportive and stimulating environment for all our postgraduate students. We aim to provide excellent support for our postgraduates through dedicated postgraduate convenors, highly trained supervisors and pastoral support for each student.
Our overarching aim is to provide a research training environment that includes:

  • provision of excellent facilities and cutting edge techniques
  • training in essential research and generic skills
  • excellence in supervision and mentoring
  • interactive discussion groups and seminars
  • an atmosphere that fosters critical cultural policy and research analysis
  • synergy between research groups and areas
  • extensive multidisciplinary and collaborative research
  • extensive external collaborations both within and beyond the UK 
  • a robust generic skills programme including opportunities in social and commercial training


We are equipped for:

  • protein biochemistry
  • molecular biology
  • spectroscopy and microscopy
  • growth facilities with narrow and broad spectrum illumination
  • single-cell and whole-plant imaging
  • electrophysiology and in vivo measurements of ion concentrations
  • whole-plant physiology
  • plus glasshouses, growth rooms, plant, mammalian and insect cell culture facilities

We offer a wide range of cutting-edge research facilities including cell imaging and biophysical techniques with NMR. Our protein characterisation facility includes tate of the art machinery for analysing protein structure and interactions. In addition, we offer mass spectrometry, next generation sequencing and other polyomic approaches. 

How to apply

Identify potential supervisors

All Postgraduate Research Students are allocated a supervisor who will act as the main source of academic support and research mentoring. You may want to identify a potential supervisor and contact them to discuss your research proposal before you apply. Please note, even if you have spoken to an academic staff member about your proposal you still need to submit an online application form.

You can find relevant academic staff members with our staff research interests search.

Gather your documents

Before applying please make sure you gather the following supporting documentation:

  1. Final or current degree transcripts including grades (and an official translation, if needed) – scanned copy in colour of the original document
  2. Degree certificates (and an official translation, if needed): scanned copy in colour of the original document
  3. Two references on headed paper (academic and/or professional).
  4. Research proposal, CV, samples of written work as per requirements for each subject area.

Submitting References

To complete your application we will need two references (one must be academic the other can be academic or professional).

There are two options for you to submit references as part of your application.  You can upload a document as part of your application or you can enter in your referee’s contact details and we will contact them to request a reference.

Option 1 – Uploading as part of the application form

Your references should be on official headed paper. These should also be signed by the referee. You can then upload these via theOnline Application form with the rest your documents to complete the application process.

Please be aware that documents must not exceed 5MB in size and therefore you may have to upload your documents separately. The online system allow you to upload supporting documents only in PDF format. For a free PDF writer go to

Option 2 - Entering contact details as part of the application form

If you enter your referees contact details including email on the application form we will email them requesting they submit a reference once you have submitted the application form.  When the referee responds and sends a reference you will be sent an email to confirm the university has received this.

After submitting your application form

Use our Applicant Self Service uploading documents function to submit a new reference. We can also accept confidential references direct to, from the referee’s university or business email account.  

Apply now

I've applied. What next?

If you have any other trouble accessing Applicant Self-Service, please see Application Troubleshooting/FAQs.

If you are requested to upload further documents

Log into the Applicant Self Service and scroll down to the Admissions Section. The screenshot below indicates the section on the page, and the specific area you should go to, highlighted in red:

Applicant self service

Documents must be uploaded in .jpg, .jpeg or .pdf format and must not exceed 5MB in size.  There is a maximum 10MB upload size for all documents with the application.


Once a decision has been made regarding your application the Research Admissions Office will contact you by email.

If you are made an unconditional offer

You can accept your offer through the Applicant-Self-Service by clicking on the ‘Accept/Decline link’ for your chosen programme under the ‘Admissions Section’ at the bottom of the Applicant Self Service screen.  You can access the Applicant Self Service by using the link, username and password you used to apply and selecting the “Self Service” button below your application.

Please make sure you accept your unconditional offer within 4 weeks of receiving your offer. If you are an international student your CAS will not be issued until you have accepted an unconditional offer.

If you are made a conditional offer

If you accept a conditional offer then the offer status on Applicant-Self-Service will change to ‘incomplete’ to indicate that the application is incomplete until such time as all the conditions are met.

Your offer letter will list all the conditions that apply to your offer and you can upload the required document(s) through Applicant Self Service. If you have met the conditions satisfactorily, you will automatically be sent an unconditional offer.

If your application is unsuccessful

If your application is unsuccessful then we will send you an email to inform you of this which will outline the reason why we have been unable to offer you a place on this particular programme. Please note that your application status will be updated to 'Cancelled' on Applicant Self Service if the offer is rejected.

Deferring your offer

If you want to defer your start date, please contact us directly at We need authorisation from your supervisor before we confirm your request to defer. Once we have this we will contact you by email to confirm.

How to register

After you have accepted an unconditional offer you will receive an email nearer to the start of your studies to tell you how to register online using the University's MyCampus website, the University’s student information system. That email will provide you with your personal login details and the website address. Please ensure that your email address is kept up to date as all correspondence is sent via email. You can update your email address through the Applicant Self Service Portal under the Personal Information section.

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