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Dissecting the molecular basis and specificity of neuron-to-epidermis communication in the context of oomycete infection.

Department of Life Sciences

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Dr M Barkoulas No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London has funding for 7 3-year departmentally funded PhD studentships, to commence October 2021. Please see below for the details of the individual projects, 6 of which involve interactions with industry. For information on the individual projects please contact the relevant supervisor as detailed below. For queries about the application and interview process please contact Rozan Hamilton-Nixon at [Email Address Removed]

Application deadline: 12noon, 5 April 2021

Application process: To apply please complete the application form found at[GK1] 

How different tissues in an organism exchange signals to orchestrate a systemic immune response to infection is a fundamental question in biology. We propose to study this question in the context of a new pathosystem that we have developed in our lab, which consists of the nematode C. elegans and some fungal-like eukaryotic pathogens belonging to the oomycete group that naturally infect this model organism1. Our recent work has shown that oomycete recognition in specific head neurons of C. elegans triggers a defence response in the epidermis, which protects the animals from an upcoming infection2. However, the exact signals involved in this neuro-to-epidermis communication remain unknown. The student will characterise mutants that fail to propagate the oomycete detection signal to the epidermis and are therefore more susceptible to infection. An integrative approach will be followed using experimental (e.g. functional genetics using CRIPSR / RNAi, microscopy, biochemistry) and computational approaches (e.g. whole genome sequencing, RNA sequencing, automated survival assays) to elucidate the molecular basis and specificity of this intercellular communication. This project falls fully within the BBSRC high level themes of advancing the frontiers of bioscience discovery by understanding the rules of life. It also tackles strategic challenges of BBSRC by dealing with poorly studied microbes like the oomycetes, which cause considerable problems in agriculture and aquaculture, thereby posing a threat to the human food chain.

The project will be supported by Magnitude Biosciences via training to establish a proof-of-concept for how to use the technology to monitor animal health upon oomycete infection.

Funding Notes

The studentship will cover UK tuition fees of £4,500pa and will provide an annual tax-free maintenance stipend of £17,609, in 12 monthly instalments. Studentships will be funded for a maximum of 36 months, subject to satisfactory progress. A BSc in biological, or related, sciences is required at Upper Second Class level or better and candidates with a Masters degree, in addition to the BSc, might be given preference. Candidates must be UK nationals although EU candidates with settled status in the UK may be considered. Non UK nationals are not eligible.


1. Fasseas MK, Grover M, Drury F, Essmann CL, Kaulich E, Schafer WR, Barkoulas M. (2021) Chemosensory Neurons Modulate the Response to Oomycete Recognition in Caenorhabditis elegans. Cell Reports 34(2):108604. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.108604.
2. Osman GA, Fasseas MK, Koneru SL, Essmann CL, Kyrou K, Srinivasan MA, Zhang G, Sarkies P, Félix MA, Barkoulas M. (2018) Natural Infection of C. elegans by an Oomycete Reveals a New Pathogen-Specific Immune Response. Current Biology 28(4):640-648.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.01.029.

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