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PhD Studentship: Effect of Plant Host Resistance on Virus Populations of Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) and their Transmissibility by Aphids

London Interdisciplinary Biosciences Consortium - Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Chatham
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £20,622 per annum
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 20th October 2023
Closes: 10th January 2024

Barley yellow dwarf disease (BYDV) is one of the most important and re-emerging diseases of cereals in Europe and is responsible for major losses on the production of cereal crops globally. The disease causes reduction in yield and quality of cereals, and it is currently the most economically important viral diseases of cereals with losses up to 60% in winter wheat. Over 10 different viruses commonly referred to as barley/cereal yellow dwarf viruses (YDVs) have been demonstrated to be responsible for the disease. 

YDVs are phloem restricted and are transmitted exclusively by aphids in a persistent manner. Traditionally the control of the disease has largely relied on the control of insect vectors using chemical insecticides. However, the recent ban on the outdoor use of neonicotinoid insecticides, which provided efficient control against aphid vectors, together with emerging insecticide resistance in some vectors and climate change makes the control of yellowing viruses increasingly difficult. 

The use of genetic resources with resistant or tolerant phenotypes is an alternative to chemical-based control methods. A first BYDV resistant wheat cultivar RGT Wolverine carrying the bdv2 gene has been deployed in the UK by RAGT. These resources carry the potential to sustainably control the disease. However, the durability of resistant phenotypes is limited by the evolution of resistance-breaking virus variants. There is a need to better understand the resistance mechanisms in plants and what are the effects of resistance on virus populations and their transmission by insects. This knowledge is paramount for breeders to develop durable genetic resources. 

To explore the effects of the resistance in Wolverine cultivar in the transmissibility of the YDVs by aphids and the selection of virus variants, the project will focus on three main objectives: (i) Biological characterisation of the BYDV plant host resistance, (ii) assessing the effect of host resistance on the evolution and virulence of YDVs and (iii) assessing the effect of host resistance on vector competence and insect fitness.

The successful candidate will use a combination of biological assays in controlled environment, high throughput sequencing and field trials to answer these research questions. 

The project is based at the NATURAL RESOURCES INSTITUTE (NRI), a multi-disciplinary research institute within the University of Greenwich which hosts licensed insectary facilities, quarantine glasshouses and a range of state-of-the-art dedicated facilities for molecular biology. The student will also benefit from the supervisory input from the industrial partner, RAGT, one of EUROPE’s leading seed breeding companies with a strong expertise in wheat.

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