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Hitting the sweet spot - phenotyping tissue integrity to reduce sugar losses during the harvest and storage of sugar beet (Beta vulgaris)

Land, Farm and Agri-business Management Department

As per advert
Closing Date:   Thursday 28 February 2019
Interview Date:   To be confirmed
Reference:  RD-PHD-33JMM

PhD Studentship (42 months funding including a 6 months paid work placement)


Sugar beet is a major crop grown in temperate countries as a source of dietary sugar.  However, sugar can be lost from harvested roots during storage with losses of approximately 0.1% of total sugar volume per day (BBRO, 2016).  Factors that reduce the propensity to root breakage and/or bruising may be associated with a reduction in sugar losses during storage but the underlying physiological basis of ‘robustness’ is not known (Hoffman & Schnepel, 2016).  Work at Harper Adams University almost 20 years ago studied the biochemical processes of bruising in sugar beet (e.g. Ibrahim et al., 2001; Spackman & Cobb, 2001) but there is little or no understanding of factors affecting susceptibility to damage and/or bruising of sugar beet roots, although many such factors have been identified for other crops including potatoes (reviewed by Cobb, 1998), carrots (Herppich et al., 1999) and radish (Lockley et al., 2014).  Tissue strength and hence propensity to damage can be influenced by physiological factors such as cell size, cell wall volume fraction, adhesion between cells, root water potential, osmotic potential and turgor pressure, tissue texture and the nutrient status of the tissue (Wiltshire & Cobb, 2000). 

Aims & Objectives

This project aims to identify phenotypic traits to enable plant breeders and growers to optimise tissue strength making roots more resilient to damage and hence reduce sugar losses during crop storage.  This project addresses a specific commercial need and also develops a commercially relevant scientist who would be well suited to working in plant science either as a career academic or in applied crop science. 

The student will receive training in post-harvest physiology, agronomy, soil and crop assessments, plant tissue texture analysis and statistical analyses as well as experience of the technical challenges of commercial crop production.

Applications should be made through the HAU website: where further details of the project can also be found.

The deadline for uploading completed applications is 5 pm UK time on Thursday, 28 February 2019.

Further information can be found on the HAU website at and on the research training provided and PhD progression requirements in the Postgraduate Research Students Handbook at:

For informal enquiries on general aspects of research degrees at HAU, applicants may contact Mrs Viv Slann, Research Students Administrator ( For informal enquiries on the project, applicants may contact the Director of Studies Dr Jim Monaghan through the staff directory:

The studentship includes tuition, bench and writing up fees and a tax-free stipend at the current RCUK rate (£14,777 per annum).

All applicants must have a minimum of an upper second class UK honours degree, or equivalent, in Biology (with a plant science component), Plant Biology, Environmental Studies, Agriculture or related sciences or an MSc degree in the same areas. 

A minimum level of competency in English is required. Where necessary, applicants need to be classed as an overall IELTS grade 6.0 with a minimum of 5.5 in each component.  Please see the following link with regard to English Language requirements:

Applicants must possess a driving licence that is valid in the UK as independent travel between field sites will be required.


The closing date for this job opportunity has now passed, and applications are no longer being accepted for this position

Further details:

Harper Adams University is one of the premier UK Higher Education Institutions focused on the land-based and food supply chain sector.

With 2800 undergraduate students, plus those completing postgraduate, research and CPD programmes, Harper Adams is the UK's largest single provider of higher education for these subjects.  Programmes fall into eleven broad subject areas – but none operate in isolation. Community and collaboration are key at Harper Adams, meaning everyone, including staff, students and industry partners, benefits from a close network of knowledge and opportunity exchange

Situated in Shropshire, the campus and the surrounding area provide an excellent working and living environment for staff and students alike.

Harper Adams is consistently positioned highly in a range of national ratings, performance measures and league tables. Its current graduate employment rate is 98% (the joint top rating in England) and student satisfaction stands at 93% (National Student Survey 2017).

Harper Adams is ranked as the UK’s Best Modern University by the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018; was named University of the Year in the 2016 and 2017 Whatuni Student Choice Awards and holds a Gold (highest level) award from the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework.

In 2018 Harper Adams University will receive the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Further and Higher Education, part of the UK honours system.

Applied research is at the heart of the university’s activity, with the work of a thriving academic community underpinning both teaching and work with the industries allied to Harper. The 2014 Government Research Excellence Framework rated all of the university’s research as “of international quality”, and more than half was deemed “world leading” or “internationally excellent”.