Crop Science


We address the challenges of enhancing crop yield and crop quality in a changing environment, using a combination of advanced experimental facilities and novel crop modelling techniques. We tackle the big issues of meeting the demands of a growing population without irreversible degradation of natural resources, taking into account climate variability and change and how crop production can adapt to future climates.


Dr Paola Tosi

PhD admissions lead - Dr Paola Tosi
BSc; PhD; MIAgrM, Cenv, FHEM

Paola Tosi is a Senior Research Fellow. Her main research interests focus on the deposition of storage compounds in grain, particularly cereals, combining research into grain development and the biochemistry of ripening with grain processing quality, nutritional properties.

A large part of her research effort is aimed at understanding the deposition kinetics of storage proteins and of cell wall components, how this relates to the development and differentiation of the various grain tissues and to the amount, distribution and chemical characteristics (particularly polymerizing behaviour) of gluten protein and cell wall polysaccharides in the mature grains.

Increasingly the emphasis of her research is on how environmental effects (biotic and abiotic stresses, crop nutritional inputs) impact on final grain yield, grain processing quality and nutritional characteristics, including macro and micro nutrients bioavailability. These themes are pursued in projects investigating the effect of post anthesis heat stress on grain size and the relationships between genotype, yield and environmental factors on protein distribution in the wheat endosperm, respectively.


Samuel Leigh

PhD profile: Samuel Leigh

Research Title:
PhD in Agriculture, "Harnessing multiple ecosystem services from novel crop rotations"

Research Description:
My research involves the collection of data from a field plot experiment being conducted at the University's Crops Research Unit (CRU) based at Sonning Farm, in Berkshire.

Conducted over a three year period, a number of ecosystem service indicators relevant to arable production have been measured, demonstrating how diverse crop rotations impact and shape multiple ecosystem services.

My PhD is directly related to my previous academic background, and work experience in Ecology. I initially worked as an ecological field assistant for an ecological consultancy, working on mitigation projects for a range of different species from badgers to breeding birds, before moving on to a seasonal ecologist position at an ecological planning and research company where I surveyed protected species, and supervised and trained MSc student interns in the survey techniques that I developed. These placements have really aided my learning and have given me an awareness of the commercial environment and the importance of building relationships.

In addition, it has driven my desire to look at the applied nature of research, and the importance of finding solutions to real world problems.

Career Aspirations:
I would like to work at the interface between science and policy as either a scientist working on an applied area or in a policy role trying to translate science into recommendations and policy options. I am currently an academic fellow at the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology in the midst of a 3-month placement and really enjoying seeing how scientific evidence can feed into the decision making process.

My passion to pursue such a career path comes from previous worked based accomplishments where I contributed to an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) for great crested newts and hazel dormice, and accumulated over 100 hours of bat survey experience. I really enjoyed the work; it was a great motivator. This coupled with the fact that my PhD studies have highlighted my natural ability to work with statistics make the idea of finding a role that involves communicating statistics, scientific evidence, and putting it all this into practice, very appealing.

BBSRC Food Security DTP and EU FP7 Liberation project

Professor Simon G Potts, Dr. Hannah Jones

Expected Completion Date:
September 2017

Country of Origin:

Why did you choose Reading?
I became interested in studying for my PhD at Reading when the research group was recommended to me by my Master's supervisor, when I was studying at the University of East Anglia. I heard of the work that my supervisor was conducting, which added to my enthusiasm. The University is also conveniently located; with excellent transport links to get you pretty much anywhere and its attractive campus environment was a key deciding factor, especially as it has recently been awarded its sixth consecutive Green Flag award.

My expectations of Reading have definitely been fulfilled. I am really enjoying my research project and the field work has been really interesting, as is finding answers to real life issues. I have also enjoyed the variety of activities that I have undertaken, and the opportunity to travel and test myself. I have had the chance to attend a number of workshops and more formal courses, which have all been valuable. The University's classes on teaching were particularly good. An experience that has enriched my learning.

I have also had the chance to present my science at a conference, and to participate in some seasonal lecturing in the University's School of Archaeology, Geography, and Environmental Science. I have been a module convener and sessional lecturer for the 2016-2017 Quantitative Analysis of Environmental data course, teaching introductory statistics to under-graduate and post-graduate students. This role has been a principle achievement for me, which involves successfully managing a team, and organising and teaching a module.

I would definitely recommend doing a PhD at the University of Reading. Not only does it open up career paths that would otherwise be unavailable to you, it also provides opportunities to learn skills and gain new experiences, as well as testing your own abilities.

Nikolaos Koukiasas

PhD Profile: Nikolaos Koukiasas

Research Title:
"Leaf-specific weed control on vegetable crops"

Research Description:
My research is intended to address the concerns surrounding the losses of herbicides in vegetable crops. By applying herbicide droplets directly onto the leaves of weeds, I will better understand how this affects weed control while minimizing herbicide inputs and meeting the demand for more sustainable crop production.

In the past I have worked in several roles that look into and test the impact of pesticides and herbicides on plants in order to better protect them. Seeing the significance of this work has driven me to work on this research project, as I now believe that the future of weed control lies in the use of precision weed control systems. I have drawn on my past experience as a Field Trial Officer at Magma Agricultural Inputs, which has benefitted me considerably when carrying out similar trials with herbicides. I quickly realised that being able to work in a laboratory rather than in a field has made it attainable to take these trials a step further, seeing if manipulating just the weed leaves themselves would have a desired influence.

I started conducting research in April 2015, initially operating in the glasshouses to quantify the volume and number of herbicide droplets that are required to control different types of weeds under controlled conditions. I have since taken my work into the field to test the true significance of these results on cabbages, carrying out the same procedure as before with a range of droplet values.

My results have proven the concept of leaf-specific weed control by herbicide droplet application both in the glasshouses and in the field, achieving results of 92% weed control while reducing herbicides by 85%. I have produced two posters so far on my research, with both being presented in several national and international conferences. As well as this I have released my own paper on the topic, titled; "Dose response relationship of droplet applications for the leaf-specific weed control in vegetable crops".

Career aspirations:
I hope to work in the academic sector, in particular being involved with machinery and software development. This area's strong relations with business would allow me to aid and assist the major agricultural issues at an industrial level, while also allowing me to continue my current research, as I am keen to specialise in the kinetics of herbicides, learning more about the new formulations of pesticides that impact crop yields.

AHDB Horticulture and The Douglas Bomford Trust

Dr. Alistair J. Murdoch

Expected Completion Date:
October 2018

Country of Origin:

Why did you choose Reading?
I chose Reading as the high quality of the work that was being conducted in the School was evident to me when I was studying for my masters. It inspired me and I decided that this was the best place for me to complete my PhD. The variety of research that was being carried out within the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development fascinated me and I could see why it is one of the leading Universities for Agricultural studies.

Whilst completing my masters I also came across the facilities located in the Crop and Environment Laboratory, but it was the glasshouses that influenced the direction of my research. Through the use of this facility I was able to control all the variables required for me to see the true impact of herbicides on crop yields, whilst also carrying out extremely realistic trials that will carry similar results to the field. The relevance of the equipment to my project and significant applicability of these results to the current real-world situation is what not only helped me shape where to carry out my PhD, but also what to actually research.

The other reason I chose Reading was for its Researcher Development Programme (RRDP). The programme has helped me to continue learning skills in writing, and has also helped me to better manage my project and myself as I conduct the project as it supports all of the work that goes into my research, as well as ensuring that I pass the confirmation of registration so that I am able to concentrate on my work at hand.

PhD Profile - Donald Zulu DonaldAE3

Start date: October 2016

Supervisor(s) name: Prof. Richard Ellis, Dr. Alistair Culham

Funding: Commonwealth Scholarship Commission

Completion Date: November 2020

Country of Origin: Zambia

Research Title: ‘ Utilization, propagation and genetics of the wild harvested edible yam lusala (Dioscorea hirtiflora Benth. subsp. pedicellate Milne-Redh) in Zambia’

Donald has not only passed his PhD viva recently but has also been awarded the University of Reading’s prestigious Researcher of the Year award for 2020 in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology for his ground-breaking research.

Research Description:

My PhD research was driven by my personal observation of lusala tubers in markets in Zambia and the surprising absence of formal information on its value as a food plant, conservation status, propagation and genetics. Lusala is therefore an understudied resource despite anecdotal evidence suggesting widespread utilization in southern and central Zambia. My research combines three disciplines (social science, agronomy and genetic diversity) to address the societal need of ensuring sustainable utilization of lusala in Zambia.

To increase the profile of lusala for policy, research and development support in the country, I evaluated its importance to rural livelihoods in southern Zambia by focusing on foraging, consumption and trade through a socio-economic survey. To assess the potential domestication of this wild yam and for in situ and ex situ conservation, I investigated the vegetative propagation of lusala using several different methods employed on cultivated yams. To set the foundation for devising suitable conservation, plant breeding, and crop development strategies, I explored the genetic diversity and structure of lusala samples collected across its natural range within Zambia.

The results from these three research components, two of which have already been published in refereed journals, provide a firm basis for not only the future research and development of lusala for consumption in Zambia, but also its conservation.

Career Aspirations:

I would like to continue my lusala (Dioscorea hirtiflora) research to contribute to the sustainable utilization of this species which is threatened with overharvesting and habitat loss. I strongly believe that sustainable collecting methods should be developed to ensure a future for foraging of this local wild yam and/or develop semi-domestication approaches that brings this wild edible yam in some form of cultivation on farm landscapes.

With the increasing interest in cultivation of domesticated yams among smallholder farms in Zambia, I hope to contribute to the crop diversification endeavours by conducting adaptability and agronomic performance evaluation of cultivated yams across three agroecological zones in the country.

Following my recent completion of my PhD, I will continue with my yam research at the Copperbelt University in Zambia to contribute to food security.

Why did you choose Reading?

I chose the University of Reading for a number of reasons. One being the expertise of the staff, particularly from my supervisors, Prof. Richard Ellis and Dr. Alastair Culham, who gave me the necessary skills and advice to help me achieve my goals. Also, I have undoubtfully benefitted from completing within the Schools of Agriculture, Policy and Development and of Biological Sciences as I was given an interdisciplinary platform to conduct innovate research that is able to create positive change to those who need it most, particularly within my home nation of Zambia.

What interested you in your chosen area of study/ research?

Local wild harvested yams are a vital source of food for the poor, rural populations within Zambia, my home nation, and are relied upon heavily especially in southern Zambia. Open forests, where yam grows in great abundance are now under threat at an alarming rate due to increased deforestation rates. As a result, the livelihoods of millions are being put under threat. Sustainable methods of foraging are vital in order to protect lusala as well as the forests it grows in. My research addressed these issues and can hopefully support positive change which leads to the development of sustainable methods of foraging for future generations.

What work experience have you undertaken to-date?

Before undertaking my PhD research, I previously worked at Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, a Zambian non-governmental organization that conducts sustainable agricultural research, training and extension. My role was to conduct research and promote sustainable agricultural technologies to smallholder farmers in Zambia. I also worked on a preliminary study at the Copperbelt University that documented important wild roots and tubers in Zambia.

Do you feel that such placements have benefited your study and future development?

My work experience taught me to place greater emphasis on engaging the primary client (in my case rural foragers, who are smallholder farmers) to ensure that research responds to real societal needs. The work also exposed me to practical rural sociology, vital for effectively engaging rural people.

Follow these links to read Donald’s papers:  

Vicky Tagkouli

PhD profile: Vasiliki (Vicky) Tagkouli

Research Title:
PhD in Breeding for yield and disease resistance in the faba bean.

Research Description:
Plant breeding is a very challenging and promising research field and the ever increasing human population needs a significant increase in food production. In fact, such issues that are underlying in global food security are amongst the most pressing in international politics.

My project addresses the instability of yield potential of elite spring bean varieties in high rainfall conditions due to Ascohyta blights, a disease of worldwide distribution that can cause between 15-35% yield losses under certain weather conditions. Considering problems in Northern Europe and meeting challenges of Irish faba bean producers, this research aims to combine Ascohyta disease resistance and yield from autumn planting using a modified recurrent selection scheme.

Career Aspirations:
I see myself working on several research programs either in academia or private institutes/laboratories. By completing my PhD project in this particular area of research, I hope my contributions will provide me with all the appropriate knowledge required to pursue a breeder or geneticist career path.

Associated/Relevant Research Groups/Centres:
Teagasc - The Agriculture and Food Development Authority, Crops research Oak Park, Carlow, Ireland.

Teagasc Walsh Fellowship

Donal O'Sullivan (University of Reading) and Dr John Carroll (Teagasc, OP)

Expected Completion Date:
February 2020

Country of Origin:

Why did you choose Reading?
During the last year of my MSc studies, I participated in a three month Erasmus placement programme in Dijon, France, where I became a member of the French National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA). It gave me the opportunity to collaborate with some great researchers and to be a part of an integral scientific team involved with the molecular lab research undertaken.

That experience changed my career aspirations and inspired my search for a PhD.

The University of Reading is ranked amongst the top research led universities, so it became very attractive to me; especially as much of Reading's world class research is focused on the global issues that affects us as a society, both now and in the future, which is wholly relevant to my own PhD project research area.

In addition, hearing about the Reading Researchers Developing Programs (RRDP) was reassuring, as it provides such vast support, even at PhD level, in terms of the wide range of training sessions, workshops and activities that are designed to help researchers like myself to carry out research effectively, professionally, and ultimately to be successful in my on going career.

Would you recommend a PhD to other students?
Embarking on a PhD is a big decision but I would highly recommend a PhD to those who have an irrational enthusiasm for science and research, enjoy being in challenging situations and have that desire to invent whilst enjoying the teaching-learning process.

So if you have an ambition to achieve something significant and feel a PhD could improve your life and future career, I believe starting a PhD is the key to do this.

PhD Profile: Hayder ShihabHyder Shihab small image

Research Title:

'Plant growth regulators and water use in different Rice cultivars.'

Research description:

My research investigates the impact of water scarcity on crop production, which is a major concern for agricultural production in many parts of the world.

Rice, which is a staple crop, is one of the most inefficient crops in its consumption of water. It consumers approximately 40% of the world's irrigation water, and 30% of the world's freshwater resources. Therefore, research to find appropriate solutions to overcome this problem are necessary. Plant growth regulators (PGRs) or plant hormones, which regulate plant development or adaptations to environmental cues, could be used to improve the water use efficiency in rice. Manipulating plant hormones, either endogenously or exogenously, could alter the plant architecture, by increasing the root length of plants to allow them to access water at depth for a longer period of time, and increase their tolerance to drought conditions. To address this, the effects of treating rice seeds with plant hormones on root and shoot development and subsequent drought tolerance are being investigated within my research.

Career aspirations:

On completion of my PhD I hope to continue working within academic research, especially within the field of root systems of crops. My ambition to work on root systems stems from previously being involved with two research programmes to develop Wheat and Sorghum, through selecting, breeding, and adapting new genotypes for arid environments.

Root systems of crops have had little surrounding research, so my research will investigate the differences between plant roots, such as primary length, lateral numbers, total length and the distribution of the root system in the soil. This information will then be useful to plant breeders to allow them to select the best genotypes according to their root system, or avoid genotypes with poor root systems. I am also interested in continuing my investigations into the link between the root system, drought and final yield.


The Higher Committee for Education Development in Iraq (HCED)


Dr John Hammond

Expected completion date:

July 2019

Country of origin:


Why did you choose Reading?:

I received a scholarship to study at reading, and the University was highly recommended to me by my ex-supervisor. He himself had graduated from Reading in 1986 and at that time, the majority of PhD students, which are now leading the agriculture organisations in my country, also graduated from Reading.

Since joining I have been involved in a number of different programmes which are offered at the University to develop and increase students' skills. I now understand how the University of Reading has kept its reputation all this time, as it provides a unique and supportive study environment for its students, combined with modern equipment, as well as a wonderful campus and convenient location.

PhD Profile: Erika Deganierikadegani

Research Title:

'Can novel crop rotations enhance the provision of multiple ecosystem services underpinning arable production?'

Research Description:

My research was part of the broader EU LIBERATION Project (Linking farmland biodiversity to ecosystem services for effective ecological intensification). LIBERATION aimed to quantify the potential of ecological intensification (optimisation of provisioning, regulating and supporting ecosystem services in the agricultural production process) to sustainably enhance food security through a standardised approach which examined the relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem service delivery across Europe.

Career Aspirations:

I would ideally like to carry on doing research in academia but I am open to different options.

Start date: October, 2013.

Supervisor(s) name: Prof. Simon G. Potts

Funding: European Community's Seventh Framework Programme and CASE (Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering) studentship from BBSRC, with Syngenta as the industrial partner.

Expected Completion Date: Graduated in July 2019

Country of Origin: England, UK

Why did you choose Reading?

Reading has a great worldwide reputation in the area of research I was interested in. It was actually the only university I applied to do a PhD.

Please outline the different kinds of learning experience that you feel you have most benefited from.

This is a difficult one as there was just so many. Given the broad nature of my PhD research and the fact it was part of a European project, I had the chance to undertake a variety of activities including; working in the lab; the field; travelling abroad to present at international conferences and participating in outreach activities. I was able to learn and benefit from all of these opportunities.

Would you recommend a PhD to other students, if so why?

I would definitely recommend a PhD if people enjoy research and are working on a topic which they really like. Doing a PhD is a great opportunity to learn new skills, develop critical think and is an overall great experience. You do have to love what you do as it will take over your life for those three-four years though!

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