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ACCE DTP project: Plant self-defence for improved potato yield

Department of Biology

About the Project

Seeking an enthusiastic and ambitious student to develop a project using applied field experiments to explore how plant volatile signals can be used to diagnose and control an important crop disease. We will test a range of sustainable, nature- based solutions (e.g. – co-cropping) for pest/pathogen control. The ideal candidate will enjoy applying their scientific background to an important agricultural question and interacting with academics and stakeholders from a range of backgrounds.

Tobacco Rattle Virus (TRV) is a potato disease managed by chemical intervention with significant economic impact on global potato agriculture and environmental disbenefits. We have identified an unusual metabolic transformation of the plant volatile signal which attracts nematodes that are key in facilitating virus transmission to uninfected plants. It remains to be seen how well this signal travels in agricultural soils and, particularly, whether TRV can be managed through novel interventions. This project investigates the means by which virally mediated volatile signals can be influenced by sustainable agricultural practices in order to reduce the spread of disease in potato fields.

- Assess sustainable control strategies (e.g.- co-cropping) to reduce TRV crop losses
- Identify if virally influenced plant volatiles induce defence/attraction responses in non-infected plants.
- Quantify the range over which virally induced compounds modify nematode behaviour in soils.

Project benefits
The student will benefit from training in a multidisciplinary context, with access to supervisors, colleagues and mentors with a wide range of field/analytical skills. Training will be provided in experimental design, planning and implementation for both controlled experimentation and field work, as well as in theory and practice of a range of soil chemical, physical and volatile analyses. In addition, the student may learn a range of molecular ecology methods including PCR/qPCR and will be provided with the opportunity to learn R and a range of multivariate statistical techniques.

The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting 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 we 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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