CSC studentship: Talking tubes – the role of plant cell junctions in cell-to-cell signalling and development

University of St Andrews

About the Project


Plants form the basis of human nutrition. Therefore, plant health and development are of fundamental importance to food security and sustainability. When responding to developmental and environmental signals, cells and tissues within a plant need to communicate with each other. Plant cell walls prevent direct cell-to-cell contact, so cell junctions (plasmodesmata) play an essential role in this communication, mediating the exchange of nutrients and hormones, and even transcription factors and RNAs between cells. Surprisingly, the structural components of these channels remain largely uncharacterised. In particular, plant cell junctions are unique by containing a membrane tubule (called desmotubule) that connects the endoplasmic reticulum between cells. The function of the desmotubule is currently unknown, but modelling predicts it to be crucial for the regulation of cell-cell communication. This project will investigate putative structural proteins of the desmotubule and their roles in formation and regulation of plasmodesmata.  

Project details 

Proteins shaping the desmotubule within plasmodesmata will be characterised by genetic, cell biology and biochemical approaches:  

1) Characterising plants lacking desmotubule-shaping proteins for effects on intercellular connectivity, development and pathogen resistance. 

2) Characterising membrane-shaping properties of desmotubule proteins by quantitative live-cell confocal and STED super-resolution imaging. 

3) Analysing the role of an interaction between desmotubule-shaping and membrane-tethering proteins in formation and regulation of plasmodesmata (coIP, combining mutations, electron microscopy). 

Training opportunities and student experience 

The student will work within two friendly and enthusiastic co-located research teams and receive extensive experience in molecular biology, advanced fluorescence imaging, protein biochemistry, electron microscopy and plant transformation. 

The University of St Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland and consistently ranked as amongst the UK’s top ten universities, currently ranked top in both, the Guardian University Guide and the Times University Guide, as well as 1st for student satisfaction in the Complete University Guide. The University of Dundee was ranked top university in the UK for Biological Sciences in the Research Excellence Framework 2021. The James Hutton Institute, Dundee, is a world-leading plant research center which offers comprehensive plant growth facilities and a state-of-the-art imaging suite. The student will be embedded in a highly stimulating and interactive research environment with free access to extensive career and transferable skills programmes. 

Interested candidates are strongly encouraged to contact Dr Tilsner for informal enquiries:  



Submit an application to St Andrews University through the online application portal: Research programmes – Study at St Andrews – University of St Andrews (

Your online application must include the following documents:

  • 2 References
  •  Academic Qualifications
  • English Language Qualification (if applicable)
  • CV
  • personal statement

Once you have submitted your application to the online portal, please submit a scholarship application through the link provided. More information can be found here: China Scholarship Council – Global partnerships and study abroad – University of St Andrews (



Queries on the project can be directed to the project supervisor.

Queries on the application process can be directed to Rachel Horn at

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