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PhD Studentship: Increasing Agricultural Crop Productivity Through the Selective Modification of the Soil Microbiome

University of Essex - School of Life Sciences

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Colchester
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: From £15,609 based on UKRI rates 2021-22
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 15th November 2021
Closes: 12th January 2022
Reference: 11318

Supervisory Team:

Prof Alex Dumbrell (School of Life Sciences, University of Essex)

Professor Tracy Lawson (School of Life Sciences, University of Essex)

Dr Ruth Bryant (RAGT Seeds)

Scientific background:

Increasing crop productivity in an environmentally sustainable manner is a global challenge of the 21st century. Agronomists have long known that plants modify their local soil microbiome, accumulating species-specific pathogens that suppress that crop’s growth. Rotational cropping practices are used to overcome these negative soil feedbacks. These practices have historically taken a “black box” approach, relying on simple observations of which crops and rotational covers are best suited to follow each other. However, we now have the scientific tools required to open this black box, and provide a mechanistic understanding of how different crops and covers alter the soil microbiome, potentially supporting long-term crop improvement via manipulating plant-microbe interactions. Do you want to be the researcher who uses this new knowledge base to provide novel solutions to improve cropping practices?

Research methodology: You will establish a series of field trials, targeting different wheat cultivars and cover crops, both grown as monoculture and mixtures, and quantify how these modify the local soil microbiome. Both taxonomic and functional modifications to the soil microbiome will be examined, allowing identification of cultivar/cover-specific positive and negative plant-soil interactions. These plant-soil feedbacks across multiple cropping cycles will be used to develop predictive models that identify how to modify the soil microbiome for improved crop performance.

PhD Training: You will be trained at the University of Essex and by our CASE partner, RAGT Seeds, to be a multidisciplinary researcher and a highly employable scientist. Specific training will cover: agricultural field trials and crop rotation practices, Next Generation Sequencing and molecular ecology approaches, automated robotic sample preparation, high-performance computing, bioinformatics, ecoinformatics, modelling and statistics, experimental design and plant physiology. With broad training in scientific skills provided as part of the Continuing Professional Development course at Essex and ARIES-cohort training.

Person specification: We are looking for an enthusiastic person with qualifications in a related subject (e.g. Ecology, Biology, Agronomy, Microbiology) and an interest in plant biology and microbial ecology. You must possess well-developed written and oral communication skills and be able to manage your time effectively. You will be required to do both field and laboratory work.

All UKRI-funded PhD students (UK, EU, International) will be eligible for the full award – both the stipend to support living costs, and fees at research organisations UK rate. UKRI funding will not cover international fees set by universities, but all ARIES partners have agreed to fund the top-up from UK to international fees.  ARIES funding will not cover costs associated with visa or health surcharges, or additional costs associated with entry to, and living in the UK.

Email a covering letter and CV to ariesapp@essex.ac.uk

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