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Research Assistant (Research Experience Placement – Wulff Lab)

A Research Assistant (Research Experience Placement) position is available in the Dr Brande Wulff lab at the John Innes Centre during the summer of 2019, supported by the BBSRC Norwich Research Park Doctoral Training Partnership.

The Placement is designed to: give a promising undergraduate a first-hand opportunity to gain greater experience of research in the biosciences; raise the profile of research careers amongst undergraduate students; and interest students in postgraduate research in strategically important areas for BBSRC.

Safeguarding our daily bread from wheat rust diseases

Wheat rusts are destructive diseases of wheat, which throughout recorded history have caused devastating epidemics almost wherever wheat is grown.

The wild ancestors of domesticated wheat represent a rich source of genetic variation with huge potential for improving disease resistance. Deploying this genetic diversity into elite, cultivated wheat by traditional breeding takes many years for just a single resistance gene. However, the molecular identification (cloning) of resistance genes opens up new possibilities for accelerated breeding by marker-assisted selection and genetic engineering (1) . The Wulff lab has established a suite of molecular plant breeding technologies that significantly reduce costs and accelerate plant growth (2,3), gene discovery (4,5,6) and gene cloning (6,7,8) (Fig. 1).

The project addresses the BBSRC priority area of Food Security. You will work closely with a Postdoc in the lab, Dr Sanu Arora, to engineer binary vector constructs containing candidate wheat stripe rust resistance genes, which we have previously identified in Aegilops tauschii, for transformation into bread wheat. This will involve a blend of bioinformatics and wet lab molecular biology from determining exon-intron gene structure by RNAseq analysis to long range PCR, subcloning and sequence verification by Sanger sequencing. You will also have the opportunity to receive training in our bespoke association genetics pipelines for rapid gene identification (6) .

You will join a team of postdocs and PhD students with expertise in bioinformatics, mathematics, scripting, genetics, plant pathogen interactions, and wheat husbandry and crossing. The John Innes Centre is a vibrant place to discuss and plan science and you will become part of our larger community and alumni, which we hope will have lasting positive impacts on your future career.

Safeguarding our daily bread from wheat rust disease
Figure 1. Incorporation of resistance genes from crop wild relatives into elite cultivars. Speed breeding halves the generation time. Insert (b) shows plants grown under glasshouse conditions (left) or speed breeding (right).


  1. Dhugga & Wulff (2018). Science 361:451-452
  2. Watson et al (2017) Nature Plants 4:23-29
  3. Ghosh et al (2018) Nature Protocols 13(12):2944-2963
  4. Steuernagel et al (2015) Bioinformatics 31:1665-7
  5. Steuernagel et al (2018) BioRxiv:
  6. Arora et al (2019). Nature Biotechnology 37:139-143
  7. Steuernagel et al (2016). Nature Biotechnology 34:652-5
  8. Sánchez-Martín et al (2016). Genome Biology 17:221


To be eligible to apply you will need to be registered at a UK University and be expected to obtain a first or upper second class honours degree in a basic science (including mathematics and engineering) or veterinary subject.

This is one of two project options that we are offering on wheat-focussed food security. Click here for further information on the project; ‘Safeguarding our daily bread from wheat rust diseases’.

These projects are designed for middle-year undergraduates to find out more about their suitability and aptitude for further research. Applications for projects in an area of science different from the applicant’s main subject area are encouraged. Applications should include a CV detailing educational history, grades thus far, and any additional scientific/research/academic achievements, etc. In addition, provide a personal statement specifying which project(s) you are applying to and why, with an explanation of what you hope to gain from the placement. Also include the contact details of at least one academic referee.

This placement is for eight weeks during the summer vacation of 2019. Each placement-holder will be paid the National Living Wage. The student and the awarding department are required to submit a brief report on the outcome of the placement to BBSRC on completion of the placement.

Note this placement does not meet the requirements for Visa sponsorship and will exceed the permitted work for anyone already on a Tier 4 visa.

We are an equal opportunities employer, actively supporting inclusivity and diversity. As a Disability Confident organisation, we guarantee to offer an interview to all disabled applicants who meet the essential criteria for this vacancy. The John Innes Centre is also proud to hold a Gold Award from Athena SWAN and is a member of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme.

The John Innes Centre is a registered charity (No. 223852) grant-aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and is an Equal Opportunities Employer.

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