Joint PhD Scholarships With the University of Nottingham

Are you planning to embark on a PhD? Have you heard of the Joint PhD program between the University of Adelaide and the University of Nottingham, UK? The Universities work closely together on many of the world's most pressing challenges such as food security, climate change and health and medicine.

By joining the program, you will gain an international outlook and build an international network, essential in today’s globalised job market. You will also have access to the research strengths of two globally leading research-intensive universities, the University of Adelaide and the University of Nottingham, UK.

This program offers a fantastic opportunity to fast-track your international career.

How does it work?

The University of Adelaide (UofA) will be your home institution and the University of Nottingham (UofN) will be your host. 

During your time overseas, you will be based at a Nottingham campus in the UK, China (near Shanghai), or Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

  • You will begin your PhD at UofA, developing your research proposal, skills and starting your research.
    * It is also possible for students who are unable to travel to Australia to begin their study at the University of Nottingham
  • Your project will be co-supervised by both UofA and UofN academics.
  • After your first year at UofA you’ll spend a minimum of 12 months at UofN (in one or several blocks). 
  • Importantly, you will be eligible for training courses and additional travel grants from both institutions.
  • You’ll undertake your examination, including an oral defence at UofA. 
  • Graduates of the program receive a single doctoral degree jointly awarded by both institutions.

What’s on offer?

A limited number of fully funded PhD scholarships for up to 4 years and some travel support to start in 2020 in the area of Sustainable Agri-Food Systems for Global Nutrition.

Available projects

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  • Phenotypic and genetic analysis of root traits in wheat pre-breeding germplasm for improved nitrogen-use efficiency in Australia and UK

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Victor Sadras, Matt Denton
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: John Foulkes, Gustavo Slafer

    Cultivars with high yield and low nitrogen requirements are critical for sustainable production of wheat worldwide. The objectives are to: (i) identify lines derived from novel wheat germplasm expressing high N-use efficiency (NUE), (ii) reveal the physiological and genetic mechanisms of root nitrogen uptake, assimilation and transport for improved NUE. The germplasm includes elite bread wheat pre-breeding lines and ancestral introgression series (T. urartu and Ae. speltoides). Traits of interest include stay-green under N limitation, which has been shown to be related to root length density and post-anthesis N uptake. Phenotyping will include “shovelomic” in the field and rhizobox and 2-D technologies in controlled environments. Remote sensing platforms such as hyper-spectral reflectance radiometry will be used for field screening for senescence-related traits. Genotyping information will be used to map QTL in selected bi-parental mapping populations taking into account GxNxE interaction. The dissection of the traits, genes and/or markers will enable the introgression of NUE traits into germplasm of choice breeding programs.

    Year 1 Aus: Literature review, formulation of hypotheses and research questions; UK: Field Trial 1 
    Year 2 Aus: Publication 1 (review), UK: Field Trial 2 
    Year 3 Aus: Publications 2 and 3 (Field Trials 1, 2); Rhizobox trial 1 and 2
    Year 4 Aus: Rhizobox trial 3; Publication 4 (Rhizobox trials); Thesis submitted

    Candidates will have access to (a) a hypothesis-driven program on sustainable wheat production, (b) multidisciplinary training combining agronomy, ecology, physiology, soil science, breeding and genetics, (c) unique germplasm resources, (d) state-of-the-art phenotyping and genetic technologies, (e) field and laboratory activities in UK and Australia, (f) opportunities for publication in high-impact journals, and (g) support from leading scientists at the Universities of Nottingham and Adelaide.

  • Modelling and quantification of food deserts

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Dr Edward Green, Prof. Rachel Ankeny (tbc)
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Dr Nabil Fadai, Dr Simon Preston

    A food desert is a neighbourhood, usually within an urban area, where inhabitants have poor access to affordable, nutritious food. Consequently, their diet can be restricted to foods that are high in calories but low in nutritional value, which can significantly impact their health and well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this issue, due to volatility in supply chains and the effects of panic-buying. Therefore, understanding how food deserts form and the effects of different interventions to alleviate the situation is of paramount importance to public health in these communities.

    This project will combine mathematical modelling and data science approaches to improve our understanding of how food deserts arise in a city, accounting for community factors such as median household income, local geography, and other relevant population demographics. We will develop agent-based models to explore hypotheses about how food deserts form.  Alongside this modelling approach, we will use statistical analysis of spatial data (e.g., the distribution and type of stores), incorporating local demographic covariates to understand the patterns characteristic of food deserts in the UK. By comparing the real and simulated data, we will be able to gain new insights into how and why food deserts develop. This can then be used to predict the effects of interventions, such as where to place new establishments that provide nutritious foods to benefit the largest possible number of community members. 
    A background knowledge of mathematical modelling, computer programming and basic data analysis would be advantageous. No previous knowledge about food deserts is assumed.

    The project’s two components of modelling and data analysis will be undertaken in parallel, which provides flexibility for the student to commence at either Nottingham or Adelaide, depending upon their current location, any travel restrictions in force at the time of commencement, and their own preferences. Following is a proposed 1-2-1 split in which study commences at Nottingham.

    Nottingham (1 year) identifying relevant data sources and acquiring the data. Analysing UK data, including spatial patterns and demographic covariates associated with known UK food deserts.
    Adelaide (2 years) developing agent-based models to explore current hypotheses of food desert development. Analysing model simulations to determine qualitative classes of emergent patterns as a function of model parameters. Extending the model to incorporate hypothetical interventions, and investigating their relative effectiveness.
    Nottingham (1 year) reconciling agent-based models with real data via formal parameter estimation, and proposing/exploring effect of interventions in specific context of UK food deserts.

    This project benefits from bringing together a team of supervisors  who collectively boast a unique set of skills in agent-based modelling (Fadai), data science and statistics (Preston) and modelling of pattern formation (Green).  The student will gain greater breadth of experience and new perspectives from training in two internationally-leading institutions. Further benefits include access to data from known food deserts in the UK, and the emerging critical mass of researchers working in modelling of social science-related problems at Nottingham, exemplified by its recent ‘Modelling and Analytics for a Sustainable Society’ Doctoral Training Centre.

  • Healthy plant based snacks from dry fractionated cereal and pulses

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Prof Maria Saarela, Dr John Carragher
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Prof Chris Dodds, Dr Joanne Gould

    South Australian farmers grow a wide range of grain varieties but very little is processed into value-added ingredients. Dry fractionation using an air-classifier will be used to enrich the protein and/or fibre fractions from milled grains such as oats, hulless barley and various pulses (lentils, faba beans etc). Since this is not an extraction process, many bioactives (e.g. the beta-glucan from oats) will still be found in the final flour product. This project will take advantage of the existing diversity of commercial and in-development varieties to determine those lines which could be processed into value-added ingredients.  

    The first step of the research is to develop processes for the pre- and post-milling treatment (e.g. dehulling, roasting to inactivate enzymes) as well as for the air-classification of a variety of grains to optimise the conditions for protein, starch, fibre and bioactive enrichment.  Regarding pulses it will also important to analyse fractions for the “beany taste” so a sensory panel will be used to assess the taste of pulse-based ingredients in some model foods. 

    Value-added enriched flours will have different physicochemical properties from whole flours and work will need to be carried out on how these novel fractions can be incorporated into foods. A key focus area will be to develop healthier snack foods (i.e. lower in fat, refined sugar and salt) and so products will be developed with the enriched flours using new technologies like extrusion, air frying and microwave fluidised bed processing.

    Year 1 Develop protocols for the pre- and post-milling treatment as well as for the air-classification fractionation of a variety of grains to optimise the target outcome (e.g. enriched fibre, protein, beta-glucan, minimising beany taste). Testing the sensory properties of the ingredients (UoA)
    Year 2 Characterising the physicochemical properties of the enriched flour fractions to include thermal property analysis and confocal microscopy. Developing healthy plant based snack prototypes with different processing technologies including extrusion and thermal popping (Nottingham)
    Year 3 Further development of the fractionation process based on the results obtained with prototype development (UoA)
    Year 4 Developing the final healthy plant based snacks (Nottingham)

    This project brings together the results of the strength in grain and legume pre-breeding from the Waite campus with the strength of food science and technology at the University of Nottingham. Students will be engaged in the exciting field of ingredient development and value-adding to commodity crops, with a focus on contributing to sustainably produced functional foods.

  • Understanding astringency perception to improve food quality: A novel sensory phenotype, salivary protein, oral microbiome and genetics-based approach

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Associate Professor Sue Bastian, Dr Tina Bianco-Miotto
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Associate Professor Gleb Yakubov, Dr Tristan Dew

    Preventable metabolic conditions, such as obesity, can be tackled by creating consumer acceptable healthier food options that retain desirable profiles of sensory attributes. Specifically, negative sensory attributes, such as astringency and bitterness, are often prominent in vegetables and legumes, (which are staples of strategies that target replacement of calorie-dense ingredients) plus polyphenol-rich wine, chocolate, and tea, and drive both utilitarian and non-discretionary food choices. Furthermore, astringency insights are particularly important to large global food and beverage industries including the chocolate, tea and wine industries to better meet consumer preferences. This project addresses important questions of identifying inter-individual mouthfeel determinants of astringency and bitterness, aiming to uncover the link between the sensitivity to oral percepts with the composition of salivary proteome, genetic makeup and oral-microflora in adults. Enabled by MassARRAY gene profiling technology, newly developed techniques for oral phenotyping and segmentation of consumers and salivary protein polymorphic analysis, the project also proposes innovative utilisation of buccal cell samples to determine the relationship between astringency perception and ca. 200 taste/texture genes and proteins. Further, new microbiome techniques, such as 16S rRNA gene sequencing will be used to correlate astringency sensitivity with the profiles of oral microbial communities. The project provides training for a PhD candidate, with expertise bases ranging from genetic and proteomic analysis, sensory science, oral microbiomics and physical aspects of protein binding.

    0 to 18 months (1.5 years) University of Adelaide: Work plan; Literature review; Apply for Wine Australia PhD stipend top-up and operating funding for wine astringency perception; Flavour and sensory science training, develop astringency and bitterness phenotype testing on Australian consumers; Develop DNA extraction capability/training; Develop microbiome capability; Profile candidate genes involved in variations in astringency perception and preference; Data collection on Australian consumers 
    19 to 30 months (2.5 years) University of Nottingham: Work plan: Relocation to Nottingham; Salivary analyses ELIZA, naïve Q-Time Of Flight; Data collection on UK consumers; Data analysis Machine Learning; chemometrics; Write manuscripts
    31 to 42 months (3.5 years) University of Adelaide: Work plan: Palatability and food consumption/preference survey testing between each genotypic/microbiome sub-populations on Australian cohort 
    43 to 48 months (4 years) University of Adelaide: Work plan: Write thesis

    This unique synergy of diverse expertise and techniques is only available through the University of Nottingham and University of Adelaide partnership and will enable true collaboration between Oral Protein Chemistry and newly developed naïve Q-TOF and machine learning analyses (UN) with Microbiome, Genotyping and Wine and Food Sensory and Consumer Science at (UA). Conducting research across two countries with a Supervisorsy team of dynamic researchers, will expand the students’ scientific network and breadth of technical experience. The student will gain access to a greater range of resources and their research benefit due to access to a broader genetically diverse consumer population. Ultimately, the findings from this research project are expected to reshape the food, beverage and health sectors and develop new business opportunities. 

  • Next generation digital sensing for the food industry

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Associate Professor Sue Bastian, Dr Lingqiao Liu 
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Professor Ian Fisk, Dr Nick Watson 

    Digital flavour assessment systems offer predictive models for explaining associations between a food’s chemical characteristics and its perceived flavour. Next generation digital sensing will measure a boarder range of “senses” simultaneously, and when incorporated with Machine Learning (ML), these tools will truly digitise multiple, complementary sensory modalities: sight (machine vision), smell (chemical fingerprinting of volatile aroma compounds), taste and mouthfeel (electronic sensing of non-volatile flavour compounds). 
    We will use hyperspectral imaging, MS-MS-Nose, E-tongue, ultrasonic sensors and Ab-Fl-Aqualog to predict flavour profiles and consumer perception and preference. Cutting-edge ML (AIML-UA) based on new-generation deep techniques and built upon artificial neural networks, will process data from multiple modalities, e.g. measured and perceived flavour attributes, 2D and 3D images, free text. Multiple training strategies, such as supervised, unsupervised and semi-supervised learning, to train the network under different data formats will advance a true understanding of the chemistry-sensory nexus.

    This unique synergy of technologies will open new opportunities for a range of food and beverage industries (e.g. wine, spirits, tea, coffee, fruits, vegetables, and snacks). Ultimately, the resultant technologies will be reverse engineered for real time manufacture and models utilised for product optimisation.

    The result of this work will give companies a greater understanding of their product and competitors; increased insight into consumer behaviour, enhanced consumer engagement and satisfaction through social media platforms; more rapid product development and lower cost product formulation. Furthermore, the tool will increase consistency between seasons and be used to enhance traceability and authentication of provenance across the supply chain. 

    Year 1 UA- Literature review; Development of Machine Learning tools; Data scraping of existing internal and external data sets; implementation and validation of model
    Year 2 UA-Case Study 1-3: (1) Wine, (2) tea and (3) spirits - basic chemistry, polyphenolic chemistry, CieLab, Aqualog, flavour chemistry; sensory and consumer trials and initial insights into social media applications.
    Year 3 UN - A wider range of materials will be tested, Case Study 3-5: (3) coffee, (4) seasonal fruits (e.g. apples), (5) soft gummy sweets and sensors (hyperspectral imaging, ultrasonic, E-tongue) will be tested using machine learning capabilities developed in year 1 and integrated with affiliated industrial partners and social media engagement platforms 
    Year 4 UN/UA - Extension work focussing on truly hyphenating sensing technologies and identifying novel external routes for application; thesis preparation and viva

    This unique synergy of expertise and techniques is available only through the University of Nottingham and University of Adelaide. Joint PhD partnerships enable true collaboration between multiple world leading research groups and academics: Food Chemistry and Engineering (UN) [Professor Ian Fisk, Dr Nicholas Watson], Wine and Food Sensory and Consumer Science (UA) [Associate Professor Sue Bastian] and Machine Learning (Australian Institute for Machine Learning-UA) [Dr Lingqaio Liu, Prof Javen Shi].

    The successful student will be trained in flavour chemistry, food engineering, wine science, sensory and consumer science, cutting-edge machine learning and a wide range of complex data management tools. Furthermore, they will be strongly mentored and develop unique skills in managing complex research projects across multiple countries, enhanced communication skills and delivering research impact through affiliated food companies. Ultimately, the findings from this research project are expected to reshape the food and beverage sector and develop new business opportunities.

  • Understanding global consumer opinions on edible insects

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Professor Kerry Wilkinson, Associate Professor Sue Bastian
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Assistant Professor Qian (Candy) Yang, Assistant Professor Jo Gould

    With current global challenges, population growth and climate change in particular, it is critical that we develop sustainable strategies for achieving food security. Protein plays a critical role in human health, however, our protein intake is mainly from meat and dairy products, which are not sustainable sources. Insects offer an environmentally friendly, alternative source of protein. However, due to cultural biases in western culture, insects are currently used in animal feed, rather than as human food. Entomophagy is experiencing a steady increase in adoption worldwide and it has gathered considerable interest of late, as a novel approach to addressing food security issues, and as a means to meeting the increased consumer demand for sustainable foods that are high in protein. This research will primarily look at consumer responses to edible insects in different cultures, including Australia, the UK and China. Secondly, this research will look at consumer acceptance, and the sensory appeal, of different types of insects, both as whole insects, and following their incorporation into different foods. Thirdly, the influence of personal traits such as food neophobia and disgust on consumer acceptance of and attitudes towards novel ingredients/products will be explored, together with the emotional and/or physiological responses elicited by edible insects and foods made with insects. The potential for educational programs to be used to improve acceptance of insects as food will also be explored.

    Year 1 - 1.5 University of Adelaide: Completion of literature review and research proposal, including ethics applications; Sensory analysis training; ource edible insects and foods made with insects, for cross-cultural, emotional and physiological trials 
    Year 1.5 - 3/3.5 University of Nottingham: Continue cross-cultural trials with UK and Chinese consumers, and emotion/disgust trials using Facereader; Devise and evaluate an educational campaign to improve acceptance of insects as food
    Year 3 - 4 University of Adelaide: Complete evaluation of educational campaign; Finalise publication of scientific papers and completion/submission of thesis

    The proposed project addresses an issue of global relevance, i.e. food security, and the need for alternate protein sources that afford both nutritional and environmental benefits. The project will exploit research expertise/experience/infrastructure at each University – i.e.  UA’s existing partnerships with insect/insect-based food producers, UA and UN’s combined expertise in sensory/consumer research (specifically in cross-cultural and emotional studies), and the provision of Facereader technology and product development facilities at UN. This will enable the student to undertake a more comprehensive (and impactful) piece of work, and to develop a broader range of skills and expertise, than if they were based at either University alone.
     

  • Examining the Interplay between Understandings of Nutritional Health and Well-Being for Humans and Companion Animals: A social and ethical cross-cultural comparison

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Professor Rachel AnkenyDr Michelle Phillipov
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Dr Pru-Hobson-West, Prof Kate Millar

    As the world struggles to adapt to COVID-19, it is clearly no longer viable to fail to appreciate the profound interlinkages between human and animal health. As previously argued by the World Health Organisation and others, many sectors, including the food sector, need to work together to support what is known as the One Health approach.  However, most empirical work to date has focused on the relationship between livestock and human health.

    The aim of this PhD project is to develop a case study focused on companion animal nutrition, and its relation to wider questions and understandings of human nutritional health and well-being. The research will involve a cross-cultural comparison between Australia and the UK, exploring the social and ethical context within which consumers make decisions about pet nutrition and how these relate to their constructions of values, ethics, and responsibilities including with regard to their own food habits. The project will use qualitative and media-based research methods to investigate so-called novel feeding practices (such as vegan, raw, or ‘alternative’ diets) which are rapidly emerging as popular options for companion animals. The ultimate aim is to understand the interplay between food decisions that humans make for themselves, and those they make for the animals for whom they care. The project will contribute to key debates in the social sciences, in food ethics, and in animal and human nutrition.

    Across the four-year program, the student will have regular joint supervisions with all supervisors (scheduled to accommodate UK and Australian time zones). The student will be encouraged to be an active member of the relevant research groups in the Adelaide and Nottingham and will have a postgraduate peer mentor within the two University teams.

    Year 1 Adelaide – Core training, including research question development, research design and methods training and development, ethics clearance preparation, and initial empirical work on the Australian part of the study
    Year 2 Nottingham – Further methods training, empirical work in the UK part of the study, and data analysis 
    Year 3 Adelaide – Further empirical work, data analysis, preparation of outputs such as conference paper(s), and thesis chapter development 
    Year 4 Adelaide with a short visit to the UK (as appropriate) – Finalisation of data analysis, development of outputs including one or more journal article, thesis chapter completion and submission

    The successful student will have a unique opportunity to develop a well-grounded comparative project, working with academics who have established track records in agri-food ethics with grounding in a range of fields including food studies, philosophy, media studies, empirical bioethics, and veterinary sociology. The student will also benefit from interdisciplinary supervision from the four experienced academics, and will be expected to pursue publications during candidature independently and in collaboration with the supervisors. 

    The student will work with bioethics and STS scholars across two research groups at the University of Nottingham in the UK, the Centre for Applied Bioethics (CAB) (School of Biosciences and School of Veterinary Medicine and Science) and the Institute of Science and Society (ISS), School of Sociology and Social Policy. This setting provides excellent opportunities in terms of training and interactions with related post-graduate students and academic staff members. The student will also be encouraged to engage with a number of UK and European networks, such as the European Society of Agricultural and Food Ethics (Prof Millar is the current Society President).  

    At Adelaide, the student will work primarily with scholars associated with the Food Values Research Group in the School of Humanities in the Faculty of Arts, but also will be involved as appropriate in the Public Engagement in Science and Technology Adelaide (PESTA) research cluster and the Agrifood Policy Program in the Stretton Institute (which focused on social/public policy). This setting will provide outstanding support for postgraduate research, including a vibrant cohort of other postgraduate students and both formal and informal training opportunities (Prof Ankeny has been recognised by the University with a prize for excellence in supervision based on her cohort approach to postgraduate studies). The PhD student will be supported to engage with extensive networks relating to food studies in Australia, including interactions with researchers at other major universities and via professional associations.

  • Building resilient cereals for future environments

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Matthew Tucker, Dabing Zhang
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Zoe Wilson

    This project aims to develop high-throughput non-invasive imaging technologies for flower and seed development in cereal crops. It will make use of infrastructure at the Hounsfield facility (UoN) and The Plant Accelerator (UA), as well as mutant populations and CRISPR barley lines that show alterations in flower and seed development. In addition, the project will capitalize on complementary expertise in phenomics, genomics, transcriptomics and data analysis to investigate how barley reproductive development can be desensitized to stress. The findings will inform genetic strategies to improve plant reproduction and response to different environmental conditions.

    Year 1 Adelaide (Literature review, characterization of barley CRISPR lines / mutants, 1st phase training of UA CT systems)
    Year 2 Adelaide/Nottingham (Stress treatments, 2nd phase training of UA CT systems, data analysis, downstream molecular analysis, transfer to Nottingham mid-year) 
    Year 3 Nottingham (UoN CT-based characterization of single/double mutants, network analysis, protein interaction studies)
    Year 4 Adelaide (Final data analysis, assembly of models, publications and thesis)

    Benefits include:

    • access to world-leading plant biologists with complementary strengths in male and female reproductive development.
    • access to precision non-invasive phenotyping infrastructure and expertise (UA and UoN) to determine when and where differences in barley reproductive development arise after environmental stress
    • access to novel barley mutants showing differences in flower/seed development that show varying responses to stress and can be exploited for fundamental and applied research outcomes (UA and UoN)
    • opportunities to develop new non-invasive screening assays that might be applied to other agriculturally relevant grass species such as wheat, rice or oats.
       
  • Capsaicin food products to control appetite

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Prof Amanda Page, Dr Hui Li
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Dr Ni Yang, Dr Sally Eldeghaidy

    This study aims to design food products with differing levels of flavour active ingredients (i.e. capsaicin) to enable greater control of food intake. The gastrointestinal tract, plays an important role in signalling (e.g. via vagal afferent sensory nerves) the arrival, amount and chemical composition of a meal to the brain where it is processed leading to feelings of fullness and satiety, eventually terminating a meal. It has been shown that chilli intake is inversely associated with the risk of becoming overweight or obese. Capsaicin, the active ingredient of chilli, is a TRPV1 agonist. TRPV1 is expressed on gastrointestinal vagal afferents and activation of this channel leads to increased vagal afferent sensitivity and heightened satiety signalling. However, the tolerance for hot chilli varies from human to human. This study aims to determine if food products can be designed to tailor for the different tolerance levels and whether capsaicin supplementation can be used for weight loss or weight loss maintenance. This project will take a multidisciplinary approach ranging from basic science right through to clinical studies. Initially the project will investigate the intracellular mechanisms involved in TRPV1 satiety signalling. Human studies will investigate capsaicin tolerance and will lead to the design of capsaicin food products for the control of food intake. Clinical studies, capitalising on Nottingham’s MRI expertise, will determine the effect of the designed food products on central signalling. Finally, we will use animal models, to determine if these food products will induce weight loss or assist with weight loss maintenance.

    Year 1 University of Adelaide: Investigation of the intracellular mechanisms involved in TRPV1 mediated gastrointestinal vagal afferent satiety signalling.
    Year 2 & 3 Nottingham University: At the Boddington site with Dr Ni Yang, human studies will be conducted to investigate capsaicin tolerance. Subsequently, food products will be designed with differing levels of capsaicin. At the main campus with Dr Sally Eldeghaidy, MRI imaging of the gastrointestinal tract and brain will be undertaken to determine the central effects of gastric stimulation in response to consumption of the designed food products.
    Year 4 University of Adelaide: Investigate, using a chronic animal model, the long-term benefits of the designed food products on food intake and weight gain.

    The University of Adelaide has a very strong program of nutritional research across the university, in which this field of research received a 2015 ERA score of 5, emphasising that the University, and particularly the Faculty of Health and Medical Science has major strengths in the field related to this research. Profs Page has made major contributions to the Universities standing in this and is a member of the Universities Centre of Research Excellence: Translating Nutritional Science to Good Health; a world-leading group of inter-disciplinary researchers from institutes across Adelaide, including the Royal Adelaide Hospital, CSIRO Human Nutrition and the University of Adelaide. In addition, Prof Page is the Director of the Nutrition, Diabetes and Gut Health Program which forms part of the Lifelong Health Theme at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and Prof Page’s laboratory is located within this large “state of the art” research institute with the requisite infrastructure and equipment for the proposed studies. The University of Nottingham’s Division of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics has extensive experience and expertise in improving the sensory perception and nutritional credentials of food products. Unique capabilities and knowledge in the areas of flavour formation, ingredient structure-function relationships through food processing and consumption, and the development of novel ingredients will give the student access to cutting edge equipment in the field and a unique training platform. Further, the University of Nottingham has long standing expertise in developing novel MR imaging techniques, with Sir Peter Mansfield pioneering discoveries in MRI. Now there is the capability to combine brain and gut imaging in a single MRI scan session to understand the physiological mechanisms (brain-gut axis) of appetite and satiety in normal weight and obese individuals, and the association of taste phenotypes with body mass index.
     

  • Vitamin D and calcium food products to control gestational diabetes

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Prof Amanda Page, Dr Hui Li
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Dr Matthew Elmes, Dr Preeti Jethwa

    This study aims to design vitamin D and calcium enriched food products for prevention and management of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). GDM is defined as hyperglycaemia from glucose intolerance that develops during pregnancy. Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of GDM. It is known that vitamin D plays a role in glucose homeostasis by multiple mechanisms including the regulation of intestinal calcium absorption. Calcium availability is essential for many intracellular signalling pathways, including insulin signalling. Further, prolactin receptor has been shown to play an important regulatory role in intestinal calcium absorption, including through regulation of vitamin D. However, adaptations in vitamin D and prolactin mediated calcium absorption during pregnancy and the time course of this adaptation is unknown. During pregnancy there are gross anatomical changes in the gastrointestinal tract that increase the surface area and therefore nutrient absorptive capacity of the small intestine. However, nutrient absorption occurs through both passive (Vit D) and active/facilitated processes (calcium). Despite the importance of the gastrointestinal tract in nutrient absorption, there is little information available on adaptations in the active processes involved in nutrient absorption. This study will investigate adaptations in vitamin D and calcium absorption across pregnancy and the role of prolactin receptor. Translation to humans condition is facilitated with availability of blood samples from control and GDM patients. Further, this will lead to development of food products at the University of Nottingham that will be tested using established animal models at the University of Adelaide.

    Year 1 University of Adelaide: Investigation of the adaptive changes in nutrient absorption across pregnancy, with a particular emphasis on calcium and vitamin D. This will involve a collaboration with Dr Ladyman from the University of Otago, NZ. Dr Ladyman has a specific gastrointestinal enterocyte prolactin receptor knockout mouse line that can be utilised to determine the role of prolactin receptor in driving changes in calcium absorption during pregnancy.
    Year 2 & 3 At the University of Nottingham food products will be designed to maximise calcium and vitamin D availability. Further, the University of Nottingham has a biobank of blood samples from pregnant women who developed GDM. These samples will enable determination of calcium and vitamin D levels across pregnancy.
    Year 4 University of Adelaide: Investigate, using a chronic animal model, the long-term benefits of the designed food products on blood glucose control during pregnancy.

    The University of Adelaide has a very strong program of nutritional research across the university, in which this field of research received a 2018 ERA score of 5, emphasising that the University, and particularly the Faculty of Health and Medical Science has major strengths in the field related to this research. Profs Page has made major contributions to the Universities standing in this and is a member of the Universities Centre of Research Excellence: Translating Nutritional Science to Good Health; a world-leading group of inter-disciplinary researchers from institutes across Adelaide, including the Royal Adelaide Hospital, CSIRO Human Nutrition and the University of Adelaide. In addition, Prof Page is the Director of the Nutrition, Diabetes and Gut Health Program which forms part of the Lifelong Health Theme at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and Prof Page’s laboratory is located within this large “state of the art” research institute with the requisite infrastructure and equipment for the proposed studies. Further, the University of Nottingham’s Division of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics has extensive experience and expertise in the development of novel ingredients and is ideally positioned to develop food products for the prevention and management of GDM. In addition, the University of Nottingham has an established biobank of blood samples from health pregnant women and those with GDM which will enable translation from the mouse model to the human condition. Unique to this project is the additional collaboration with the University of Otago, capitalising on their novel mouse line and making this a truly international experience with establishment of collaborations globally.

  • Using hyper-spectral imaging to develop new high-value wheat varieties for novel foods

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Dr. Iain Searle, Dr. Scott Boden
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Dr Rahul Bhosale, Prof. Ian Fisk

    The student will gain training in a combination of cutting-edge hyper-spectral imaging, whole transcriptome sequencing and molecular genetic techniques to elucidate the molecular basis of high protein content in novel bread wheat lines. The UoN have developed a state-of-the-art high-resolution hyperspectral imaging (HSI) tool that is designed to chemically fingerprint individual seeds. By using machine learning and the HSI imaging tool, we are able to predict the seed’s chemical composition and understand the impact of spatial distributions along the spikelet. These established, non-destructive tools allow us to rapidly measure protein content, and other traits like starch content, on an individual grain that was previously not possible. There is strong industry pull for differentiated wheat varieties, like high protein content and high amylose wheat, to produce novel foods as communicated by our Joint Research Centre of Grains for Health industry partners in South Australia. 

    Year 1 (UoA) Advanced recombinant inbred lines (RILs) have been developed for a wheat mutant that contains a hyperactive allele of a HD-ZIP transcription factor, which increases grain protein content (GPC) under field conditions. Grain development in mutant lines, relative to near-isogenic wild-type, will be characterised from fertilization until maturity to determine relative rates of grain fill and distribution of assimilates from source to sink tissue. Sequential quantification of grain macro-nutrients will be used to define critical developmental stages that will be used to perform transcriptome analyses using RNAseq, which will identify molecular pathways that underpin the genetic basis of protein and starch deposition. The work will include analysis of the molecular role for the HD-ZIP transcription factor during grain fill (e.g. expression analysis, biochemical assays).
    Year 2 (UoN/UoA) To examine the grain composition of the wheat mutant with increased GPC, the student will undertake training on hyperspectral imaging (HSI) and machine learning tools to perform HSI image analysis on single seeds. The work will include development of calibration curves for protein : starch in a diverse range of wheat samples; further development of the model to understand protein quality (alpha-amylose activity) and starch quality (amylose : amylopectin). The outcomes of the HSI analysis will form the basis of the first publication. HSI analysis will be combined with outcomes of the transcriptome analysis to identify mutant lines from the sequenced hexaploid wheat TILLING population, to confirm the role of genes in controlling grain protein and starch composition. Candidate genes will be tested by backcrossing mutant lines to the wild-type parent, to generate segregating populations, including independent mutants for each analysed gene. The student will attend and present at an international conference. 
    Year 3 (UoN/UoA) - The student will return to UA to complete genetic analysis of the segregating populations to confirm the role of candidate genes in controlling GPC. Mutations defined to influence GPC will be introgressed into the original class III HD-ZIP to test for genetic interactions – this genetic analysis will test if the gene functions before or after distribution of assimilates to the developing grain. The work will include detailed analysis of grain development, and interrogation of grain quality traits (e.g. size, weight, germination rates). The student will attend a national conference (e.g. Monogram, UK: Wheat Breeders Assembly, Australia).
    Year 4 (UoA/UoN) Genes determined to influence GPC and grain quality will be functionally characterised by examining their expression during grain fill, potential molecular function (e.g. protein localisation, biochemical function) and analysis of allelic variation within cultivated and wild wheat populations and further study on additional populations with known genomic resources. The outcomes will form the basis of future work to improve GPC and/or starch content in wheat grain. Outcomes of the transcriptional and downstream genetic analysis will form the basis of a second publication. The student will complete their thesis, perform their viva and present at an international conference.

    UoA= University of Adelaide, UoN= University of Nottingham

    The project brings together world leading expertise in hyperspectral imaging and machine learning at the UoN with cutting-edge genomics and novel bread wheat lines at the UoA. In doing so, the project will bring the field to the laboratory to examine the underlying genetics of grain nutritional quality using an innovative approach, which would not be available at either single institution. The supervisory team will provide broad access to international wheat researchers (e.g. Designing Future Wheat ISP, International Wheat Yield Partnership) and breeding teams (e.g. CIMMYT), to leverage germplasm and resources that will advance the career of the student and provide a unique opportunity to engage with commercial breeding programs (e.g. KWS-UK, AGT, Limagrain).

    UoA: Dr. Searle, brings established strengths in molecular genetics and industry partners, Dr. Boden brings expertise in wheat developmental biology, germplasm essential for the project, links to industry in the UK and Australia, and collaborations with leading wheat research partners.

    UoN: Prof Fisk, brings established strengths in grain hyper-spectral imaging and food processing to the joint project. Dr Bhosale brings expertise in bioinformatics and functional genomics expertise.

  • Closing the loop in advanced protected horticulture systems: A systems approach

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Prof Seth Westra, Dr Matthew Knowling and Prof Bassam Dally
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Prof Paul Wilson, Prof Erik Murchie

    Significant inroads have been made globally to develop sustainable greenhouse systems that are both water and energy self-sufficient; these systems are termed “closed loop” with respect to water and energy balances. However, closing the carbon and nutrient fluxes loop in these engineered systems, especially those designed to operate in water-limited regions such as in Australia, has received less attention. This project will investigate the techno-economic viability of utilising un-/under-used system-produced biomass for power and/or heat generation and greenhouse CO2. The project will employ process-based computational models including crop-growth, heat-transfer, and bio-economic approaches to represent key unit processes and their complex interactions and feedbacks, while generating metrics of sustainability. The model integration and metric development will be used to identify optimal system design solutions for different objectives, such as minimising production cost by nutrient reuse via gasification energy extraction options, or by novel LED lighting regimes. The project will use the South Australian Sundrop Farm facility as a case study. By emulating Sundrop’s industry-scale operation, the project will adopt systems-theoretic and optimisation approaches to explore rates of return, technology options, and the scale required for viability of different options. Comparison with UK facilities facing different environmental resource constraints (i.e., primarily energy-limited as opposed to water-limited) will provide further model extensions and testing opportunities.

    First 6 months at UoA, subsequent 12 months at UoN, and remaining candidature at UoA. This approach is geared towards collaboratively establishing the key research directions.

    The benefits to the student from the joint supervisory partnership between UoA and UoN include the opportunity to establish a broad yet specialised professional network, thereby enhancing future employment prospects, while also enjoying an improved student experience more generally. Both the student and the project will benefit as a result of the unique and specialist capabilities of both of these world-class universities in agrifood sector, including domain knowledge housed across several Schools and Faculties at UoA and UoN, unique laboratory capabilities (e.g., X-ray computed tomography at UoN). This is a result of the need for UoA and UoN to tailor to Australia’s and the UK’s different environment and economic situations respectively, and will ensure that project outcomes will be relevant far beyond the national scale, thus increasing project impact.

  • Creating digital twins of space-agriculture systems

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Prof Volker Hessel, Dr Matthew Knowling
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Prof Dov Stekel, Dr Diriba Kumssa

    Significant advances have been made globally in the development of “closed loop” agriculture systems on Earth; a closed loop agriculture system is characterized by its water, energy, carbon and nutrient self-sufficiency. These advances were made possible in part by the development of improved computational crop growth and fluid dynamics modelling technologies. However, the design of a closed loop agriculture system for space, which is motivated by the need to create human life support facilities for future planetary exploration, is significantly complicated, e.g., by the effects of microgravity, harsh temperature, vacuum, and lack of essential resources on biological development. Lessons learnt from engineering research on closed loop agriculture systems designed for Earth therefore cannot be directly transferred to space. A laboratory-based “mock-up” for a closed loop agriculture system operated on Earth can only partly mimic space conditions (i.e., “space greenhouse”) – this approach cannot capture all relevant space aspects. This motivates the transformation to a “virtual full-equivalent counterpart”.  The design of sustainable agriculture space systems is also reliant on virtual environments due to the prohibitive time and cost required to conduct experiments in space. This project will adopt a process-based systems modelling approach, serving as a “digital twin” to identify key unit processes and optimal system control variables, as well as system defects, in a timely and cost-effective manner. This project will also explore how well our existing sub-system models, e.g., biophysical crop models, and their complex interactions and feedbacks with other system models, apply from Earth to space.

    First 6 months at UoA, subsequent 12 months at UoN, with remaining candidature at UoA. This approach is geared towards collaboratively establishing key research directions.

    The benefits to the student from the joint supervisory partnership between UoA and UoN include the opportunity to establish a broad yet specialised professional network, thereby enhancing future employment prospects, while also enjoying an improved student experience more generally. Both the student and the project will benefit as a result of the unique and specialist capabilities of both of these world-class universities in agrifood sector, including domain knowledge housed across several Schools and Faculties at UoA and UoN, unique laboratory capabilities (e.g., X-ray computed tomography at UoN). This is a result of the need for UoA and UoN to tailor to Australia’s and the UK’s different environment and economic situations respectively, and will ensure that project outcomes will be relevant far beyond the national scale, thus increasing project impact.

  • Identification and exploitation of carbohydrate polymers and bioactive compounds from plant biomass

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Professor Vincent Bulone, Dr Long Yu
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Dr Gleb Yakubov

    The project aims to characterise the structure of complex carbohydrates from agricultural crop waste and assess their physico-chemical properties prior to their utilisation for the development of new functional and/or structural materials of added value for applications in e.g., functional food, material composites, bioplastics, cosmetics. To this end, the student will combine carbohydrate polymers with bioactive compounds, e.g. prebiotics, anti-oxidants, antimicrobials, and molecules with anti-inflammatory properties. The student will have access to Adelaide Glycomics, a recently established Analytical Centre for Complex Carbohydrates where he/she will be trained in modern analytical chemistry techniques for the structural characterisation of carbohydrate polymers as well as metabolomics for the identification of bioactive compounds. The work at Nottingham will involve research and training in physico-chemical techniques for the determination of the properties of the new materials generated.

    The student will initiate their research at the University of Adelaide, spending most of their time at Adelaide during year 1 and 2; during the second half of year 2, research will also take place in Nottingham to assess the properties of new materials created from biological sources. This will span through the beginning of year 3, after which research will continue at Adelaide.

    The project will use address fundamental questions with potential for translation in sectors that are relevant to both Australia and the UK, in particular the transformation of waste biomass into product of a high value. The student will be trained in multidisciplinary research at the interface between biology, biochemistry, analytical chemistry, biophysics and material sciences. For this work state-of-the-art bioanalytical methods are required for the characterisation of carbohydrate polymers and for the identification of novel secondary metabolites with biological activity. For this part of the research, the student will have access to Adelaide Glycomics, a recently established Analytical Centre for Complex Carbohydrates where he/she will be trained in modern analytical chemistry techniques for the structural characterisation of carbohydrate polymers as well as metabolomics for the identification of bioactive compounds. The expertise at Nottingham from Dr Yakubov is nicely complementary, providing access to food characterisation technologies and assessment of materials properties not available at Adelaide. This will create synergy between the Adelaide and Nottingham research groups, capitalising on past joint collaborative research from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls that ended in 2018 (Director Bulone, co-investigator Yakubov then at the University of Queensland).

  • Optimising plant growth for space

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Matthew Gilliham, Volker Hessel
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: Erik Murchie, Ranjan Swarup

    Space agencies worldwide are committed to a greater human presence in space, and they require plants for aesthetic, psychological and practical reasons.  Plants are a source for food and oxygen, for scrubbing carbon dioxide, they can also be used to purify water and are crucial for humidity control contained environments. However, many challenges exist for growing plants in space from microgravity to low light, high CO2, altered water movement and the supply of the nutrients to roots. At the same time, the new growth environments required to grow plants in space provides an opportunity to alter plant production to manipulate form and quality.

    This project aims to explore plant growth potential in space by simulating space-like environments on earth such as high CO2, altered gravity and modified light quality. We will take two approaches, first analysing the impact of these environments on root and shoot development in model plant Arabidopsis thaliana to exploit the wealth of genetic resources available. Second by investigating genetic and environmental routes to enhance composition traits of leaves. The project will involve both engineering and plant biology components needed to create and monitor these environments and investigate the effect of altered light quality, gravity and atmosphere composition on plant growth.  

    Months 0-12 Adelaide – Core component, literature review and research plan. Optimise ‘space greenhouse’ environment for plant growth. Initiate screen for leaves with altered quality attributes and microgravity sensing.
    Months 13-36 Nottingham – Investigate components affecting leaf quality and the effect of light (write publication), probe altered gravity/atmosphere sensing pathways.
    Months 37-48 Adelaide – Finalise studies on gravity/atmosphere sensing in ‘space greenhouse’.  Finalise thesis.

    This is a collaboration between globally leading expertise in Adelaide and Nottingham, spanning diverse aspects of plant biology (gravity sensing, nutrition and stress sensing, the perception and use of light), and engineering. This project is only possible through combining these expertise with the  infrastructure at each institution (custom light arrays (UoN), microgravity generators (UoA), custom environment construction (UoA) and fundamental plant science (both)).

  • Investigating new mechanisms of crop salt tolerance

    University of Adelaide Supervisors: Matthew Gilliham, Robbie Waugh
    University of Nottingham Supervisors: David Salt, Levi Yant

    Exclusion of salt from plant shoots was long thought to be a key mechanism in salt tolerance of economically important crops. We have recently identified and characterised a naturally occurring gene mutation that casts major doubt on this paradigm. This project brings to bear a multidisciplinary team (genetics, transport biology, protein structure modelling, biophysics, imaging and image analysis, and elemental analysis), and industry collaboration to understand why a defect in sodium transport in plants leads to greater sodium accumulation in leaves but no difference in salt tolerance. This project will use new and emerging technologies to map the relationship between the transcriptome and ionome of individual cells, and the influence of key mutations known to affect salt transport, and will use novel imaging technologies to determine the effect of the mutation on grain yield in a variety conditions. We will also determine how protein sequence and structure alter the transport properties of natural variants of key salt tolerance factors. Outcomes of this project will include a better understanding of the ion transport and accumulation profiles of plants and the factors that lead to improvements in crop yield.   Further reading: Houston et al. 2020 Communications Biology 3:258

    Months 0-12 Adelaide – Core component, literature review and research plan. Structure-function investigation of transport proteins involved in salt tolerance. Perform single cell transcriptomics. 
    Months 13-36 Nottingham – Map ionome of salt tolerant barley and model plants, define components that alter ion accumulation.
    Months 37-48 Adelaide – Finalise studies that determine  affect of altered transport on salt tolerance and seed yield using advanced plant image analysis.  Finalise thesis.

    This project will use the unique infrastructure of both institutions including the Adelaide and Nottingham Plant Phenomics Facilities for detailed image analysis of plant growth, and Nottingham’s ionomics platform for cellular resolution of ion accumulation. The team are all leading researchers in their respective disciplines of nutrient composition, genetics, ion transport and crop science, and will utilise the interdisciplinary resources of both institutions for fully characterising how cell specific processes result in improved crop tolerance to saline conditions.

Contact

If you are interested in applying for one of these scholarships, please indicate the project(s) you are interested in, and attach a copy of your CV and academic transcript, by email to Assoc. Prof. Chris Ford.

If you are enquiring as an international student, you must also provide evidence that you meet the relevant English Language qualifications (please see Higher Degree by Research English Language Requirements). You will be contacted by the relevant project supervisors and invited to attend a short video interview. We will advise those applicants invited to make a full application of the necessary steps needed to prepare a formal application for the scholarships.