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(BBSRC DTP CASE) Mass Spectrometry Imaging of xenobiotics in foliar systems

Department of Chemistry

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Dr N Lockyer , Prof P Barran , Prof G Johnson , Dr D K Trivedi No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Manchester United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Analytical Chemistry Bioinformatics Physical Chemistry Plant Biology

About the Project

By 2050 it is expected that 4 billion of people will be living in countries with water scarcity, facing food shortages. At least 60% greater food production is needed to deliver future food security [1]. Crop Protection (CP) products (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) are designed to meet this global challenge, producing plants that require less water, provide higher yield and are protected from insects, weeds and diseases. Understanding the identity and distribution of active ingredients in target foliar systems is of key importance for assessing CP project compounds and helping farmers produce safe, nutritious and affordable food while minimising environmental impact.
This project will explore the novel application of established and emerging mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) technologies to measure improved uptake, distribution and metabolism of active ingredients in leaves and plants [2]. The advantages that MSI offer over current approaches are that the studies can be conducted earlier in the project pipeline, producing richer data regarding the identity of the active ingredient (or it’s metabolite) and endogenous species in shorter timescales.
MSI covers multiple techniques (MALDI, DESI, Nano/ToF-SIMS, LAESI etc) which are highly complementary to each other and to autoradiography or micro-spectroscopy techniques, providing unique molecular data for spatial metabolomics [3]. DESI and LAESI analyse samples under ambient conditions with no sample preparation providing spatial resolution on the 50-100 um scale including volatile metabolites normally lost during drying [4]. MALDI allows access to extended mass range including biopolymers at 10 um resolution. SIMS offers atomic/small molecular imaging at 0.1-1 um resolution for tracing metabolites at the sub-cellular scale [5].

This BBSRC-CASE PhD project is in collaboration with Syngenta, a world market leader in crop protection. The aim is to develop transferable protocols for studying important foliar systems using multiple mass spectrometry and complementary techniques. MSI technologies will be evaluated and benchmarked against performance criteria including sensitivity, specificity etc. Using optimised methodology, the project will then study CP product distribution in different plant/leaf species using various dosing/formulation protocols. At all stages, the student will benefit from world-leading expertise at CASE partner Syngenta in plant science and established bioimaging methods, and in mass spectrometry imaging at the University of Manchester. The student will receive a stipend enhancement of £2500 p.a.

Entry Requirements:
Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

UK applicants interested in this project should make direct contact with the Primary Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. International applicants (including EU nationals) must ensure they meet the academic eligibility criteria (including English Language) as outlined before contacting potential supervisors to express an interest in their project. Eligibility can be checked via the University Country Specific information page (

If your country is not listed you must contact the Doctoral Academy Admissions Team providing a detailed CV (to include academic qualifications – stating degree classification(s) and dates awarded) and relevant transcripts.

Following the review of your qualifications and with support from potential supervisor(s), you will be informed whether you can submit a formal online application.

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website

Funding Notes

This is a CASE studentship in partnership with Syngenta. Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend only. The University of Manchester aims to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK. We are able to offer a limited number of scholarships that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


[2] S. Ohtsu et al. Development of a Visualisation Method for Imidacloprid in Drosophilia melanogaster via Imaging Mass Spectrometry, Analytical Sciences 34 (2018) 991-996.
[3] B.A. Boughton et al. Mass spectrometry imaging for plant biology: a review. Phytochem Rev. 15 (2016) 445–488
[4] Y. Xiao et al. Recent advances of ambient mass spectrometry imaging for biological Tissue: A review. Analytica Chimica Acta 1117 (2020) 74-88
[5] V Pareek et al. Metabolomics and MS imaging reveal channelled de novo purine synthesis in cells Science 368 (2020), 283-290

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