Katie Shaw

Silicon enhances stomatal function and protects crop yields

About me

I completed my undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, specialising in Plant Sciences. During this time, I developed a keen interest in global food security and in studying how crop performance could be improved under future climate scenarios. Subsequently, I carried out some summer work and an MPhil under the supervision of Johannes Kromdijk at Cambridge. This research aimed to identify natural variation in a wild barley diversity panel from Israel that could improve photosynthesis under different climatic conditions. My current PhD project is exciting because it allows me to explore how a simple intervention (Silicon fertilisation) could improve the drought resilience of wheat, a key food crop. I am inspired and motivated by the idea that research I carry out in the field of plant sciences could have a beneficial impact on people’s lives.


My project

Drought stress is a major threat to global wheat yields, with the frequency and intensity of droughts increasing as climate change progresses. The global population relies heavily upon wheat for dietary calories; there is therefore an urgent need to improve wheat’s resilience to drought stress. A promising route to improve crop drought resilience is Silicon (Si) fertilisation. This project aims to test whether Si fertilisation improves drought resilience in wheat. If this hypothesis is proven true, the mechanisms behind the improved drought resilience will be explored. Given Si has been shown to accumulate in the cell walls of stomatal guard cells, these may be a key focus of my future research. Stomata are small pores on leaf surfaces important for gas exchange. When open, stomata allow for photosynthetic carbon dioxide uptake while transpirational water loss is limited by stomatal closure. The presence of Si within the cell walls of guard cells could have implications for stomatal functioning and thus drought resilience.