Naomi Cox

CASE – Engineering the rice leaf for improved photosynthesis

About me

I graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2016 with an MBiolSci degree in Genetics. From my undergraduate degree and summer placements, I have a broad background in genetics, molecular biology, microbiology and biochemistry. I was particularly interested in this CASE studentship as it offered an opportunity to work with large “omics” datasets, starting with a transcriptomic dataset produced by a previous CASE student. The link with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines offered a unique opportunity to experience the direct impact scientific work has in the wider world.

My project

Supervisors: Prof Andrew Fleming (The University of Sheffield), Dr Lisa Smith (The University of Sheffield), Prof Paul Quick (IRRI – CASE Supporter).
A major focus of projects to improve staple crops globally is the improvement of photosynthetic efficiency. Rice is a staple crop for half the world’s population, and importantly provides up to 70% of daily calories for millions of the world’s poorest people. Securing rice yields, then, is a major humanitarian issue. There is a sizeable international research effort underway to “upgrade” the C3 photosynthetic pathway in rice to the C4 pathway used by related crops, such as maize. One emerging issue, however, is that rice leaf development follows a characteristic temporal trajectory, and as such the target tissue for engineering often becomes recalcitrant to manipulation.
A previous iCASE project in our laboratory identified the key transition phase where photosynthetic competence is established in rice leaves, however there is still much we do not know about early leaf development. Using a combination of the transcriptomic resource developed by Julia van Campen (iCASE student 2012-2016), various molecular biology and microscopy techniques, I hope to further dissect the changes to the leaf during this transition, in order to better guide future rice transformation efforts.


Twitter: @naomicox_12