About the Project
Plant pathogenic bacteria cause considerable economic losses to food production systems. The main reason for this is that hardly any effective control methods exist to mitigate this damage. In this project, you will develop a novel method to control plant pathogenic Ralstonia solanacearum bacterium in the plant rhizosphere microbiome by using bacteria-specific viruses, phages. The project will focus on three key aspects that make phages especially useful tools for crop protection. First, you will explore the advantage of phage specificity and test if we can ‘precision edit’ microbiomes by selectively targeting only the pathogen. This is important not only for the efficacy but also for the safe use of phages as they should not cause collateral damage to the surrounding microbiome in the rhizosphere. Second, you will determine the evolutionary consequences of phage selection for pathogen competitiveness and virulence using direct experimentation. While it is likely that pathogens can rapidly evolve resistance to phages, this is often costly to the pathogen. Phages could thus be used as ‘evolutionary tools’ to weaken the pathogen by selecting resistance adaptations that incur high metabolic burden or impair virulence gene expression. Third, you will explore if phage-mediated changes in pathogen virulence and microbiome composition predictably alter plant immune responses having potential additional beneficial effects on the plant health. The project will combine comparative genomics, experimental evolution, microbial ecology and plant biology. You will take advantage of full genome sequenced pathogen strain collection, use Illumina platform to re-sequence evolved pathogen strains and develop bioinformatics and statistical skills to analyse the data. An ideal candidate will have a background in at least one of the main subject areas (microbiology, community ecology, experimental evolution or plant biology) and willingness to develop skills in the other areas.
This is a self-funded project. Applicants need to have adequate funds to meet the costs of a self-funded research project including tuition fees and living expenses for the duration of the research programme. Please see information on tuition fee costs, living expenses and funding opportunities.