Stomatal functions in crop tolerance to combined abiotic stresses

A morphological and electrophysiological insight into the role of stomata in crop tolerance to combined abiotic stresses

Degree type


Closing date

18 July 2022



Citizenship requirement


About the research project

Increased instability of climate leads to more frequent extreme abiotic stresses, such as heatwaves, waterlogging, drought and salinity (caused by soil water content decrease), threatening crop yield and grain quality. Besides, these environmental stresses happen simultaneously, such as heatwave with drought, drought with salinity, waterlogging with salinity under natural conditions. It is necessary to study whether there is a ‘common’ stress tolerance mechanism/signalling employed by crops regarding combined abiotic stress at a time, which not only saves crop energy budget but also increases efficiency in defending stresses. It is well documented that stomatal activity presents a high linkage with crop tolerance to salinity, drought, and heat. However, only limited studies have been reported to compare stomatal morphology changes or electrophysiological changes due to the scarcity of plant materials that are highly resistant to a few abiotic stresses at a time.  The proposed host lab for this project has privileges of using elite wheat and barley varieties as being a traditional institute for crop pre-breeding and breeding.

Stomatal guard cells control both water and carbon cycles of plants. As the main water and gas exchange ‘gates’, a fast stomatal activity in response to abiotic stress determines crop survival, development, grain quality and yield under water determined situations. Identifying the broad-spectrum mechanisms of salinity, drought and even heat induced signals and their regulation over stomata is critical to efficiently manipulate crops to breed elite crop varieties for pleiotropic tolerance. Key questions on stomatal molecular mechanisms, physiological and morphological changes will be addressed in this project:

  1. How do stomata respond to monopoly stress and combined stress?
  2. What ion transporters are critical for general abiotic stress tolerance and do plant show similar reactions to three different stresses, namely drought, salinity, and heat?
  3. Is ABA stomatal signalling involved in monopoly and combined stresses?
  4. Can a specific stomatal morphology be used as selection criterion in breeding programs?

Objectives of this study

  • Investigate the stomatal responses to either monopoly stresses, i.e. drought, salinity, and heat or combined stresses
  • Measure ion fluxes induced by drought, salinity and heat; channel currents, and [Ca2+]cyt from guard cells of the stress-sensitive and tolerant crop varieties
  • Investigate the changes for ABA signalling networks in response to single or multiple stress at a time. Introducing stress tolerance genes into one elite crop varieties and study the ionic and stomatal changes under combined stress treatment
  • Predicate the relations between plant ionic status, stomatal morphological traits, and agronomic/yield performance thus their potential to be used as indirect selection criteria for stress tolerance

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Chenchen Zhao


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,854 per annum (2022 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • The applicant needs to have a master’s degree in plant research area, such as plant physiology, plant science, crop breeding related, etc.
  • The applicant should also have capable English skills in communicating and writing

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Research experience in plant science
  • Ample knowledge of genetics, gene mapping

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Academic publications as the evidence

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Research experience in plant science
  • Ample knowledge of genetics, gene mapping
  • Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Academic publications as the evidence

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Dr Chenchen Zhao to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. Submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application, you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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