Dr Philippa Borrill PhD

Dr Philippa Borrill

School of Biosciences
Lecturer in Plant Biology

Contact details

School of Biosciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Borrill’s group studies how the developmental process of senescence determines the nutritional content of wheat grain. The group uses a range genetic and genomic approaches to understand the mechanisms controlling this developmental process, and to identify new targets for breeding wheat with improved nutritional value.


  • 2014 - PhD in Biology, John Innes Centre, University of East Anglia
  • 2010 - MA (Hons) Natural Sciences, Class I (Part II Plant and Microbial Sciences), University of Cambridge


Philippa carried out her undergraduate studies at the University of Cambridge. She obtained her PhD from the John Innes Centre working in the labs of Professor Cristobal Uauy and Professor Alison Smith on a transcription factor which regulates wheat grain nutrient content. In 2015 Philippa was awarded a BBSRC Anniversary Future Leader Fellowship, held at the John Innes Centre, in which she analysed the gene networks which control senescence and nutrient remobilisation in wheat and investigated homoeolog expression bias. During this time she developed the www.wheat-expression.com atlas and the open access www.wheat-training.com website. In September 2018 Philippa moved to Birmingham to establish her own research group.

Postgraduate supervision

PhD positions

Dr Borrill would be happy to discuss potential PhD projects with students. Applications from home and international students who have obtained or seek to obtain their own funding source are welcome. In addition, a BBSRC funded PhD position may be available through the MIBTP doctoral training scheme in association with the Universities of Warwick and Leicester. Applications for this scheme are due every January. If you are interested, please get in touch to discuss potential projects and applications by emailing p.borrill@bham.ac.uk.


Student projects

The Borrill lab also offers projects to MSc, MSci, MRes and BSc students. Please get in touch if you are interested in carrying out your research project in the lab.


The Borrill lab aims to uncover the genes which control wheat grain nutrient content, with the aim to improve the nutritional value of wheat grain for human health.

The balance between yield and nutrient content

We need to increase the yields of staple crops such as wheat, to feed the growing population of the world. However, in cereal crops such as wheat, frequently there is a negative correlation between the nutritional value and the total yield of grain. Therefore, we must also consider how, in parallel to increasing yields, we can maintain or increase the protein and micronutrient content. This is essential because wheat is a major source of these nutrients to the human diet.

To escape the trade-off between yield and nutrient content the Borrill lab aims to understand the molecular mechanisms controlling nutrient remobilisation from vegetative tissues to the developing grain and the co-ordination of this process with senescence. Through knowledge of the precise molecular mechanisms we aim to identify genes which can be used to improve nutrient content, without incurring a yield penalty.

Ongoing work in the lab has identified transcription factors which regulate the senescence process. Future work will investigate the roles of these transcription factors in nutrient remobilisation and their potential to be used in wheat breeding. We will also investigate the downstream targets of these transcription factors to explore the molecular pathways regulating nutrient remobilisation in wheat.

Polyploidy and functional redundancy

All aspects of wheat biology, including the balance between yield and nutrient content, are influenced by the polyploid genome of wheat. Wheat evolved from the sequential hybridisations of three ancestral diploid species, resulting in hexaploid bread wheat, which contains three highly similar genomes. Each genome contains a highly similar set of genes, with >95 % sequence identity within coding sequencings between the homoeologs (gene copies) found on each sub-genome. However, to what extent these homoeologs have the same or different functions is currently unknown.

We recently discovered that 30 % of wheat genes have distinct expression patterns between the three homoeologs (Ramirez-Gonzalez et al., 2018, Science), and the balance of expression between homoeologs can change between tissues and wheat varieties. Future work in the lab aims to understand the functional significance of unbalanced expression between homoeologs.

Other activities

Developing functional genomics resources for wheat

In collaboration with international partners we have developed a suite of tools to study gene function in wheat including:

Other activities

  • Monogram bioinformatics workshop co-ordinator (2018-present)
  • Co-ordinating committee member for the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (2018-present)
  • Member of the Society for Experimental Biology (2012-present)
STEM Ambassador (2011-present)


Please see Dr Borrill’s google scholar profile

  • Fahy B, Siddiqui H, David LC, Powers SJ, Borrill P, Uauy C, and Smith AM. (2018). Final grain weight in wheat is not strongly influenced by sugar levels or activities of key starch synthesising enzymes during grain filling. Journal of Experimental Botany. ery314, https://doi.org/10.1093/jxb/ery314
  • Ramírez-González RH*, Borrill P*†, Lang D, Harrington SA, Brinton J,  Venturini L, Davey M, Jacobs J, van Ex F, Pasha A, Khedikar Y, Robinson S, Cory A, Florio T, Concia L, Juery C, Schoonbeek H, Steuernagel B, Xiang D, Ridout CJ, Chalhoub B, Mayer KFX, Benhamed M, Latrasse D, Bendahmane A, International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, Wulff BBH, Appels R, Tiwari V, Datla R, Choulet F, Pozniak C, Provart NJ, Sharpe AG, Paux E, Spannagl M, Bräutigam A, Uauy C†. (2018). The transcriptional landscape of polyploid wheat. Science 361: eaar6089. DOI: 10.1126/science.aar6089. *Co-first author and †co-corresponding author.
    See John Innes Centre press release and Science editorial.

  • International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium. (2018). Shifting the limits in wheat research and breeding using a fully annotated reference genome. Science 361: eaar7191. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7191
    See media coverage in The Guardian, The BBC and The Atlantic amongst others.
  • Wicker T., Gundlach H., Spannagl M, Uauy C, Borrill P, Ramírez-González RH, De Oliveira R, International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, Mayer KFX, Paux E, Choulet F. (2018). Impact of transposable elements on genome structure and evolution in bread wheat. Genome Biology 19:103. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13059-018-1479-0
  • Borrill P, Harrington SA, Uauy C. (2017). Genome-wide sequence and expression analysis of the NAC transcription factor family in polyploid wheat. G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics 7: 3019-3029. https://doi.org/10.1534/g3.117.043679
  • Clavijo BJ, Venturini L, Schudoma C, Accinelli GG, Kaithakottil G, Wright J, Borrill P, Kettleborough G, Heavens D, Chapman H, Lipscombe J, Barker T, Lu FH, McKenzie N, Raats D, Ramirez-Gonzalez R, Coince A, Peel N, Percival-Alwyn L, Duncan O, Trösch J, Yu G, Bolser D, Namaati G, Kerhornou A, Spannagl M, Gundlach H, Harberer G, Davey R, Fosker C, di Palma F, Phillips A, Millar AH, Kersey P, Uauy C, Krasileva KV, Swarbreck D, Bevan MW, Clark MD. (2017). An improved assembly and annotation of the allohexaploid wheat genome identifies complete families of agronomic genes and provides genomic evidence for chromosomal translocations. Genome Research 27: 885-896. https://doi.org/10.1101/gr.217117.116
  • Krasileva KV, Vasquez-Gross H, Howell T, Bailey P, Paraiso F, Clissold L, Simmonds J, Ramírez-González R, Wang X, Borrill P, Fosker C, Ayling S, Phillips A, Uauy C, Dubcovsky J. (2017). Uncovering hidden variation in polyploid wheat.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 114: E913-E921. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1619268114
  • Halliwell J, Borrill P, Gordon A, Kowalczyk R, Pagano ML, Saccomanno B,. Bentley AR, Uauy C, Cockram J. (2016). Systematic investigation of FLOWERING LOCUS T-like Poaceae gene families identifies the short-day expressed flowering pathway gene, TaFT3 in wheat (Triticum aestivum L.). Frontiers in Plant Science 7: 857. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2016.00857  
  • Borrill P, Ramírez-González R, Uauy C. (2016). expVIP: a customisable RNA-seq data analysis and visualisation platform. Plant Physiology 170:2172-2186. https://doi.org/10.​1104/​pp.​15.​01667
  • Borrill P, Fahy B, Smith AM, Uauy C. (2015). Wheat grain filling is limited by grain filling capacity rather than the duration of flag leaf photosynthesis: a case study using NAM RNAi plants. PLOS ONE 10: e0134947. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0134947
  • Borrill P, Adamski N, Uauy C. (2015). Genomics as the key to unlocking the polyploid potential of wheat. New Phytologist 208: 1008-1022. Invited Tansley review. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.13533
  • Borrill P, Connorton J, Balk J, Miller T, Sanders D, Uauy C. (2014). Biofortification of wheat grain with iron and zinc: integrating novel genomic resources and knowledge from model crops. Frontiers in Plant Science 5: 53. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2014.00053
  • Scialdone A, Mugford ST, Feike D, Skeffington A, Borrill P, Graf A, Smith AM, Howard M. (2013). Arabidopsis plants perform arithmetic division to prevent starvation at night. eLife 2: e00669. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00669
    See article in BBC news
  • Kajala K, Brown NJ, Williams BP, Borrill P, Taylor LE, Hibberd JM. (2012). Multiple Arabidopsis genes primed for recruitment into C4 photosynthesis. Plant Journal 69: 47-56. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-313X.2011.04769.x
  • Xu XM, Wang J, Xuan ZY, Goldshmidt A, Borrill PGM, Hariharan N, Kim JY, Jackson D. (2011). Chaperonins Facilitate KNOTTED1 Cell-to-Cell Trafficking and Stem Cell Function. Science 333: 1141-1144. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1205727