PhD Studentship: Modelling Climate Change Impacts on Mycotoxin Contamination of Coffee (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 Dan Bebber

Co-supervisor: Prof Chris Thornton

Co-supervisor: Prof Sarah Gurr

Collaborator: Dr Luiz Filipe Protasio Pereira

Project Description:

This project will combine laboratory experiments with mathematical modelling to understand current and future risks of mycotoxin contamination in Brazilian coffee. Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer, and global coffee cultivation provides livelihoods for 25 million farming families and involves over 100 million people in production and processing. Production is threatened by climate change and outbreaks of pests and diseases, while global consumption is increasing. One of the most important risks is the contamination of coffee by toxigenic fungi. A range of fungi affect coffee fruits and beans throughout the production cycle, causing loss of quality, producing odours and unpleasant flavours and mycotoxins, and jeopardizing the safety of the final product. The ingestion of mycotoxins, even in small concentrations, can cause biological changes in humans because these mycotoxins are nephrotoxic, carcinogenic and neurotoxic.

The direct effect of climate change is on geographical distribution: in some regions new diseases may arise and others lose economic importance. In the case of fungi, infection can be predicted by models that incorporate variables such as temperature, humidity, rainfall and inoculum production. Such predictive models of the risk of disease occurrence and toxin production by fungi are important tools to increase management efficiency in storage, assisting the industry in decision-making with regard to the application of fungicides in situations where the models indicate a risk of disease and/or toxin production. The degree of fungal contamination and mycotoxin production on coffee production, quality and safety and local livelihoods is unknown, nor are potential socio-economic impacts understood. To estimate the socio-economic impacts of mycotoxin contamination in coffee pre and post-harvest and in storage it is essential to develop models that can predict the response of toxigenic fungi infecting coffee and the production of mycotoxins under a range of climate and environmental condition. Modelling the ecology of mycotoxin contamination in coffee in Brazil will help in the identification of regions and times that are most susceptible, and where control methods are best targeted.

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South West England