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Dissecting the molecular basis of virulence in Gaeumanommyces tritici, the causal agent of take-all disease of wheat.

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: BBSRC SWBio DTP funded CASE studentship available for September 2022 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,609 per annum for 2022-23, on a full time basis.
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 25th October 2021
Closes: 6th December 2021
Reference: 4286

 Wheat is one of the most important staple crops globally, the largest crop-based protein source, and its consumption is increasing globally. 

Given its economic and social importance, wheat losses by pests and pathogens are of considerable concern. Take-all disease is the most important disease of wheat roots globally. This disease is caused by a soil-borne fungus that infects roots and damages the vasculature tissue of the plants resulting in reduced yield and grain quality. In addition, the disease has an important environmental impact by reducing the uptake of fertilizers by wheat plants, which can lead to higher greenhouse emissions and water eutrophication. Despite the importance of this disease, there are currently no effective control methods available except crop rotations. Compared to other aboveground fungal diseases, the molecular interactions between roots and fungal pathogens are still poorly understood. Dissecting these “hidden” interactions will allow the development of new sustainable strategies to disease control.    

This PhD project will use functional genomics approaches to dissect the molecular mechanisms of virulence in the take-all fungus. This knowledge will allow us to move a step forward in developing better strategies to protect wheat roots from take-all disease and in general to protect crops from root infecting fungi. The project will use the natural variation between strains and closely related species differing in virulence, and newly acquired genomic and transcriptomic data, to identify candidate genes associated with fungal virulence. The new candidate genes will be functionally validated by using CRISPR/CAS9 to generate deletion mutants. The mutants will be phenotyped by using a combination of plant pathology and microscopy approaches to confirm the function of the candidate genes and their role in fungal virulence and root colonization.    

Through working with a combination of research expertise at Rothamsted Research and Exeter University, training in advanced Bioinformatics, Genomics, Transcriptomics, Molecular Plant Pathology and Microscopy techniques will be provided.   

Eligibility 

To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic and residence criteria. 

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover 

  • a stipend* at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £15,609 per annum for 2022-23
    •    research and training costs 
    •    tuition fees (at the standard Research Councils UK rate) 
    •    additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship 

Please refer to the regulations or Annex 1 of the Research Council Training Grant Guide to confirm you meet the residence criteria for a fully-funded studentship.   

* An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£24,090 per annum for 2022-2023). There may also be enhanced stipends associated with projects that have a CASE partner (highlighted as *CASE in the project lists). 

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a 1st or 2:1 UK Honours degree, or equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.  Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Masters degree or significant relevant non-academic experience.   

In addition, a minimum of a grade B in A-level Maths or equivalent qualification or experience is required.   

Equivalent qualifications/experience   

  • Physics A-level (grade B and above)  
  • Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant mathematical component*  

* eg maths, statistics, bioinformatics. 

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