PhD Studentship: Role of the Fungal Cell Wall in Plant Pathogen Interactions and Virulence (BBSRC Funded)

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

The South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP) is a BBSRC-funded PhD training programme in the biosciences, delivered by a consortium comprising the Universities of Bristol (lead), Bath, Cardiff, Exeter, and Rothamsted Research. Together, these institutions present a distinctive cadre of bioscience research staff and students with established international, national and regional networks and widely recognised research excellence. The partnership has a strong track record in advancing knowledge through high quality research and teaching in partnership with industry and government.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP).  Up to 4 fully-funded studentships are being offered to start in September 2018 at the University of Exeter.

Academic Supervisors:

Main supervisor: Dr Steven Bates , University of Exeter

Co-supervisor: Dr Mike Deeks, University of Exeter

Co-supervisor: Dr Jason Rudd, Rothamsted Research

Co-supervisor: Professor Ken Haynes, University of Exeter

Project Description:

Food security is one of the most pressing challenges currently facing humanity. The world population is predicted to reach nine billion by 2050, requiring food production to increase by 50% against a backdrop of climate change and the loss of arable land.  Despite agricultural advances plant pathogens still account for losses of 10-16% in the global harvest, making the need for new control strategies urgent.

Zymoseptoria tritici is the major cause of wheat loss in the  UK, and a major target for the cereal fungicide market.  Throughout the infection process Z. tritici remains outside, but in close contact with, the host cell. Therefore the Z. tritici cell wall must form intimate contacts with the host; as such our central hypothesis is that the Z. tritici cell wall plays a vital role in virulence, host recognition and disease.

To address this hypothesis we have three specific objectives:

[1] to undertake the first analysis of Z. tritici cell wall structure;
[2] to determine the importance of cell wall components in virulence through constructing a series of gene deletion
      strains lacking the enzymes required for their synthesis;
[3] to determine the relative role of cell wall epitopes in triggering the plant defence response. 

Through this project we will therefore fully characterise the cell wall in this important plant pathogen, and determine the importance of cell wall epitopes in both plant infection and the triggering of the plant defence response. Understanding how the pathogen is recognised, and an effective defensive response mounted, could ultimately lead to the development of novel strategies for providing durable plant resistance.

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South West England