Exploiting chemical signals to boost plant performance

Discovering the functional basis for a new chemical signalling pathway in plants

Understanding how plants perceive and respond to changes in their environment is fundamental to improving the performance of crops in the field. Over the past few years, we have identified a hormone-like signalling pathway in plants that modulates several aspects of plant growth and development.

This pathway is the same one that many native plants use to detect chemicals found in bushfire smoke, called karrikins.

We want to know how this pathway operates, what it does, and how we can make the most of it to modify plant growth as required.

This project has three primary aims:

  • Define the function of the karrikin signalling pathway in plant physiology, stress responses and plant development
  • Establish how the karrikin signalling pathway interacts with that of other plant hormones, most notably auxin, in the control of plant development
  • Characterise the transcriptome effects of activating the karrikin signalling pathway, with the intention of identifying new upstream and downstream components

For more background information, see the suggested readings below.

Suggested readings

Research team leader: Dr Mark Waters

I am a Senior Research Fellow/Senior Lecturer in the School of Molecular Sciences. I joined in 2016 as an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow. My interests lie in the mechanisms by which plants make decisions and modulate their growth according to their environment. Prior to this, I worked at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, which is housed in the same building as the School and specialises in plant molecular research. My lab is affiliated with Plant Energy Biology and has access to its world-class expertise and facilities in molecular plant science.

How to apply

Interested in becoming part of this project? Complete the following steps to submit your expression of interest:

Step 1 - Check criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

Necessary training in specific techniques will be provided, but ideally you would also have:

  • Hands-on laboratory experience in molecular biology, biochemistry and/or genetics
  • Some experience in bioinformatics and handling large datasets

Step 2 - Submit enquiry to research team leader

Step 3 - Lodge application

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, you should be in a position to proceed to the next step of the UWA application process: Lodge an application. Different application procedures apply to domestic and international students.


Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

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