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Apoplastic signalling in the interaction between plant-parasitic nematodes and their host plants

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, May 31, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

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 pathogens that have evolved sophisticated interactions with a host in order to avoid the plant’s defences and live successfully inside the plant. Endoparasitic nematodes invade host roots and stimulate root vascular tissue to undergo cell division and re-differentiate into unique and metabolically active “feeding sites” from which they feed for a number of weeks. The profound changes in plant cell ultrastructure and physiology that characterise the feeding sites are brought about by the action of so-called “effector proteins” secreted from the nematodes [1].
The project will look primarily at the role that effectors have in establishing the pathogenic interaction. It is becoming clear, from our own work [2,3] and that of others, that the region outside plant cells, called the apoplast, is an important site of action for some nematode effectors. However, the signalling pathways triggered by apoplastic effectors, which lead to a series of molecular, biochemical and morphological changes in root cells, are largely uncharacterised. Similarly the apoplastic plant molecules important in plant nematode interactions are poorly understood.
The broad aim of this project is to understand in detail the roles that apoplastic effectors have in the plant, how they are recognised and what the signalling processes and downstream effects might be. One broad class of apoplastic nematode effectors are those that share homology with endogenous plant peptide hormones, often described as plant peptide ‘mimics’. We know that some nematode species that infect multiple plant hosts use various families of such effectors (CLEs, CEPs, RALFs, etc) while other species with more restricted host ranges have fewer classes of these effectors. Do the effector classes correspond at all to the particular type of feeding cell induced by each nematode species?
The flexible nature of the studentship provides scope for the project to be tailored towards a successful student’s particular interests and the student will be encouraged to have input into the project design. For instance, plant peptide hormones interact with the apoplastic domains of receptor-like kinases to modulate plant cell development and one line of investigation could elucidate the receptors bound by the nematode mimics and their role in development of the feeding site.

Funding Notes

The Faculty of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce a number of fully-funded PhD studentships to start in Oct 2019, covering academic fees at UK/EU level and providing a stipend at research council rate (£15,009 for 2019-20) for 4 years. Candidates should have, or be expecting, a 2.1 or above at undergraduate level in a relevant subject. A range of projects, spanning the research areas of the faculty, are eligible for funding. Please apply online, clearly stating which project/supervisor you are interested in and including a CV and transcripts.


[1] Mitchum, M.G. et al. (2013) Nematode effector proteins: an emerging paradigm of parasitism. New Phytologist 199: 879–894.
[2] Eves-van den Akker, S., Lilley C.J., Jones, J.T. & Urwin, P.E. (2014) Identification and characterisation of a hyper-variable apoplastic effector gene family of the potato cyst nematodes. PLoS Pathogens 10(9): e1004391
[3] Eves-van den Akker, S., Lilley, C.J., Yusup, H.B., Jones, J.T. & Urwin, P.E. (2016) Functional C-terminally encoded plant peptide (CEP) hormone domains evolved de novo in the plant parasite Rotylenchulus reniformis. Molecular Plant Pathology 17:1265-75.

How good is research at University of Leeds in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 60.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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