PhD Studentship: Understanding the symbiosis between antibiotic-producing Streptomyces bacteria and plant roots (HUTCHINGS_UBIO17EE)

University of East Anglia - School of Biological Sciences

Start Date: October 2017

Supervisor: Dr Matthew Hutchings

Project description:  

It has long been known that some agricultural soils are disease-suppressive due to the presence of free-living bacteria like Pseudomonas and Streptomyces species that make antibiotics. These environmental strains colonise and then protect plant roots against infection. Understanding how these endophytic bacteria colonise plant roots is important however, because ultimately it will allow us to engineer bacterial strains that can better protect crop plants and reduce food wastage and the use of fungicides. At least 125 million tons of rice, wheat, maize, potatoes and soybeans are destroyed by fungal infections each year at a cost of over $60 billion.

Streptomyces bacteria are found in all soils and make around half of all the known antibiotics, including numerous antifungal compounds. They are present in high numbers inside many plant roots, including staple crops like wheat and potato and the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. The Streptomyces endophytes S. lydicus (Actinovate) and S. griseoviridis (Mycostop) are marketed as growth promoters but little is known about how the mutualism between plant roots and Streptomyces species is established.

In this project the successful applicant will use the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana to investigate:

(1) How Streptomyces species colonise plant roots,

(2) How the bacteria and plants communicate with each other, and

(3) The advantages that are offered to both organisms.

The long term aim is to engineer endophytic Streptomyces strains to make potent antifungal and antibacterial compounds and optimize them for plant root colonization.

This inter-disciplinary project will provide excellent training in a range of techniques including plant growth and infection assays, molecular microbiology and CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering. The successful candidate will be based at UEA but will also spend time at the John Innes Centre, a world leading institute for plant and microbial sciences, and will have the opportunity to attend scientific conferences and take part in school workshops and public science exhibitions to explain their research to a general audience.

Person specification: Minimum entry 2:1 in Biological Sciences, Microbiology, Molecular Biology or similar relevant subject.

Funding notes: This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 14/15 February 2017.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17, the stipend was £14,296.

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