Stomatal functions in crop tolerance to drought

A morphological and electrophysiological insight into the role of stomata in crop tolerance to drought

Degree type


Closing date

25 September 2023



Citizenship requirement

Domestic / International

About the research project

Increased instability of climate leads to more frequent extreme abiotic stresses, such as drought, threatening crop yield and grain quality. Stomatal guard cells control both the 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 elite crop varieties tolerant to drought and discovering the mechanisms underlying stomatal regulations satisfy both the purposes for discovering novel knowledge and practical crop breeding purposes. It is well documented that stomatal activity presents a high linkage with crop tolerance to drought. 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 reliable.  The proposed host lab for this project has privileges as being a traditional institute for crop pre-breeding and breeding. The utilisation of crop NIL (Near-isogenic lines) offers particularly suitable materials for identifying the stomata mechanism underlying some specific gene loci.

Therefore, key questions on stomatal molecular mechanisms; physiological and morphological changes will be addressed in this project:

  1. Are there any specific QTL of drought highly correlated with stomatal activities; how do stomata respond differently to drought in the field and laboratory based simulated drought environment?
  2. What ion transporters are critical for general abiotic stress tolerance and do plants show similar reactions to three different stresses, namely drought, salinity, and heat?
  3. How is ABA stomatal signalling differentially regulated in tolerant lines Vs susceptible lines? Including global genetic transcripts, ion channels, and stomatal morphological traits.

Objectives of this study:

  1. Identify novel QTL regarding the stomatal morphological/physiological traits-based drought resistance.
  2. Measure ion fluxes induced by drought; channel currents, and [Ca2+]cyt from guard cells of the stress-sensitive and tolerant crop varieties.
  3. Investigate the changes for ABA signalling networks in response to drought. Introducing stress tolerance genes into one elite crop variety and studying the ionic and stomatal changes under field drought and laboratory-based simulated drought environment.
  4. 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 $31,500 per annum (2023 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.

Other funding opportunities and fees

For further information regarding other scholarships on offer, and the various fees of undertaking a research degree, please visit our Scholarships and fees on research degrees page.


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

Ensure your eligibility for the scholarship round by referring to our Key Dates.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Applicants must be able to undertake the project on-campus

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:

  • The candidate needs to have a master's degree in plant research area, such as plant physiology, agriculture, plant science, crop breeding related, etc
  • The student should also have capable English skills in communicating and writing
  • Research experience in plant science; Agriculture; ample knowledge of genetics, gene mapping

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Academic publications as the evidence

Application process

  1. Select your project, and check that you meet the eligibility and selection criteria, including citizenship;
  2. Contact Dr Chenchen Zhao to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. In your application:
    • 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.
    • Submit a signed supervisory support form, a CV including contact details of 2 referees and your project research proposal.
  4. Apply prior to 25 September 2023.

Full details of the application process can be found under the 'How to apply' section of the Research Degrees website.

Following the 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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