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Does plant pathogen adaptation in environmental reservoirs and secondary host affect its virulence and risk for transmission?

Project Description

Even though opportunistic plant pathogens must survive in various natural
environments during transmission between hosts, this crucial part of their life-
cycle is often ignored. The proposed PhD project focuses on understanding the
epidemiology of Ralstonia solanacearum bacterium – a causative agent of potato
brown rot - in the UK. Thus far, all R. solanacearum outbreaks have been
associated with flooding or irrigation of potato crops from contaminated rivers
where the pathogen can persist throughout the year by overwintering in the roots
of its secondary host plant, woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara). However, it
is unclear to what extent pathogen adaptation in these environmental reservoirs
might affect its survival, virulence and risk of transmission.

Objectives: To understand how adaptation to different environmental
compartments affect the survival, transmission and virulence of environmentally
transmitted Ralstonia solanacearum plant pathogenic bacterium. To achieve this,
we will:

1) Use comparative genomics to characterize differences in pathogen
genotypes derived from environmental reservoirs (rivers), secondary
hosts (woody nightshade) and primary hosts (potato) based on the UK
strain collection spanning past three decades
2) Use experimental evolution in vitro (to mimic conditions in environmental
reservoirs) and in planta to test if pathogen adaptation to environmental
reservoirs or secondary host affects pathogen survival and virulence in
the primary host
3) Identify potential causal drivers (abiotic environment, microbial
interactions, host responses) and underlying mechanisms (genetic
changes) behind pathogen adaptation using controlled lab experiments

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.

Funding Notes

This NERC ACCE DTP studentship is fully funded for 3.5 years in the first instance, and students must complete their PhD in four years. The studentship covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,009 for 2019-2020, but typically increases annually in line with inflation), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. You can extend your funding period for up to 6 months by applying to a 3-month placement and 3-month writing up period for a publication.


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 relevant subject that provides the necessary skills, knowledge and experience for the DTP, including environmental, biological, chemical, mathematical, physical and social sciences.

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.37

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

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