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ACCE DTP project: Does belowground microbial diversity help plants cope with climate change by improving above-ground drought tolerance in plants?

Department of Biology

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Dr A Hodge , Dr J Ferrari , Prof Julie Gray No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
York United Kingdom Ecology Microbiology Molecular Biology Plant Biology

About the Project

Microbes perform several key functions in soils but can also cause release of many potent greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change (GCC). Hence, there is much current interest in the understanding the soil microbiome. The soil microbial community is taxonomically rich but this is known principally from DNA sequences from which function cannot be ascribed. Thus, it is essential to establish whether there are links between microbial diversity and function.

One key group of soil microorganisms is that of the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). AMF are both ubiquitous and abundant forming a symbiotic relationship with two-thirds of all land plants. However, different AMF benefit different hosts to varying extents. Moreover, roots of a single plant can be colonised by multiple AMF and a single AMF can connect several plant species together through its mycelium, resulting in complex interactions among organisms.

This project will examine the impact of increasing AMF diversity upon plant water relations under contrasting drought regimes. GCC models predict that drought periods will become more frequent and severe therefore plants may have to depend upon AMF to acquire water. However, we do not know if AMF differ in their capability to improve drought tolerance or what impact an increase in AMF diversity may have. We will determine this through manipulation experiments and the student will be trained in a wide range of state-of-the-art physiological and genomic techniques.

The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the NERC ACCE Doctoral Training Programme. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 3.5 years. The funding includes:

Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£15,285 for 2020/21)
UK tuition fees (£4,473 for 2021/22)
Research support and training charges (RSTC)

International candidates (including EU) will be considered however they will need to have adequate funds to meet the difference in tuition fees. International tuition fees for 2021 entry is £22,250.

Not all projects will be funded; a limited number of candidates will be appointed via a competitive process.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing ecology and evolution questions. If English is not your first language, you will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for your country. Please check our website:

START DATE: 1st October 2021
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