Skip to main content

How do plant-parasitic nematodes regulate their diet?


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Friday 3 February 2023
Project start date
Sunday 1 October 2023
Country eligibility
UK only
Competition funded
Source of funding
Professor P. E. Urwin
Additional supervisors
Dr C. Bell, Dr C.J. Lilley
School of Biology
Research groups/institutes
Plant Science
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

Plant-parasitic nematodes are economically important crop pathogens that cause billions of dollars of crop losses to agriculture throughout the world. They are good examples of biotrophic pathogens that have evolved sophisticated interactions with a host in order to avoid the plant&rsquo;s defences and live successfully inside the roots. Endoparasitic nematodes invade host roots and stimulate root vascular tissue to undergo cell division and re-differentiate into unique and metabolically active &ldquo;feeding sites&rdquo; from which they feed for a number of weeks (Jones et al., 2013).

<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Full description</h2>

<p>At the same time, plants are also host to a range of other diverse biotrophic organisms. Some of these, like the nematodes, are damaging, whilst others are mutualists (e.g. arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi). Different symbionts often colonise their hosts simultaneously. This means that importantly, all symbionts must compete for the finite amount of host resources on offer to fuel their development and reproduction. Many studies describe the movement of resources between host and symbionts yet the mechanisms that underpin resource allocation and how they change upon symbiosis with multiple organisms remain unknown.</p> <p>Our recent experiments indicate that damaging plant-parasitic nematodes acquire fewer resources from hosts that are simultaneously nourishing beneficial arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, i.e. the same amount of food has to be shared around (Bell et al., 2022). We have preliminary evidence to suggest that nematodes detect and respond to this change in available nutrients in order to maximise their acquisition of sustenance by tailoring the expression of genes involved in resource acquisition and uptake.&nbsp;</p> <p>This project will develop that preliminary work and as its starting point investigate the transcriptional response of root-knot nematodes when they are exposed to varying levels of nutrition from their host plant. This would involve co-colonisation with other symbionts, and also widen to look at host plants on which the nematodes are more or less successful. These experiments will provide a picture of how nematode gene expression changes with nutrient availability. The initial focus would be on genes involved in nutrient uptake and assimilation and the student would determine how the nematodes have evolved to feed optimally from their hosts in a range of conditions. Further experiments will determine the role of selected genes in nematode nutrient acquisition and explore how they are regulated, for example SWEET genes. The student will gain experience of the culture and analysis of plant parasitic nematodes and their host plants. The project will provide training in a range of molecular and bioinformatic techniques, including analysis of RNA sequencing data, gene cloning, RNA interference and quantitative PCR.&nbsp;</p> <h5>References:</h5> <p>Jones, J.T. et al. (2013) Top 10 plant-parasitic nematodes in molecular plant pathology. Molecular Plant Pathology 14: 946-961.</p> <p>Bell, C.A., Magkourilou, E., Urwin, P.E., Field, K.J. 2022. Disruption of carbon for nutrient exchange between potato and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi enhanced cyst nematode fitness and host pest tolerance. New Phytologist 234: 269-279.<br /> &nbsp;</p>

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p>To apply for this scholarship opportunity applicants should complete an <a href="">online application form</a> and attach the following documentation to support their application.&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li>a full academic CV</li> <li>degree certificate and transcripts of marks</li> <li>Evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (if applicable)</li> </ul> <p>To help us identify that you are applying for this scholarship project please ensure you provide the following information on your application form;</p> <ul> <li>Select PhD in Biological Sciences as your programme of study</li> <li>Give the full project title and name the supervisors listed in this advert</li> <li>For source of funding please state you are applying for a Gosden PhD scholarship</li> </ul> <p><em>As an international research-intensive university, we welcome students from all walks of life and from across the world. We foster an inclusive environment where all can flourish and prosper, and we are proud of our strong commitment to student education. &nbsp;Within the Faculty of Biological Sciences we are dedicated to diversifying our community and we welcome the unique contributions that individuals can bring, and particularly encourage applications from, but not limited to Black, Asian, people who belong to a minority ethnic community, people who identify as LGBT+; and people with disabilities. Applicants will always be selected based on merit and ability.</em>&nbsp;</p>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Applicants to research degree programmes should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate discipline. A Master degree is desirable but not essential.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p>This Gosden PhD Studentship in Plant Science will cover academic fees at the UK rate and attract an annual tax-free stipend of &pound;17,668 for up to four years, subject to satisfactory progress. Due to limited funding we can only consider applicants for this position who are eligible to pay fees at the UK rate.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p>For further information please contact the Faculty Graduate&nbsp;School&nbsp;</p> <p>e:&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p>

<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked funding opportunities</h3>
<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked research areas</h3>