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*EASTBIO* Characterising potato cyst nematode telomeres

School of Biology

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Dr H Ferreira , Prof J Jones No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Potato cyst nematodes (PCNs) are major pathogens of potatoes. As such, they threaten global food production and are also a significant financial burden on farmers [1]. Current chemical treatments for PCNs are toxic, non-selective and inadequate as they do not clear PCNs from fields. Many are being withdrawn on environmental grounds. Despite their economic importance, several aspects of PCN’s fundamental biology, including their telomeres, remain unexplored.

Telomeres are protective structures found in all animals that cap the ends of linear chromosomes. Telomere capping is essential and failure to protect telomeres inevitably triggers a DNA-damage response that prevents further cell division and/or results in programmed cell death. Very little is known about PCN telomeric structure or their capping mechanisms.

This project will use biochemical and proteomic approaches to identify and characterise PCN telomere binding proteins in vitro. We will also use molecular biology approaches to monitor telomere length changes during PCN development in vivo. Interestingly, telomeres may influence PCN plant infection directly. PCNs secrete effector proteins into its host in order to establish infection and to suppress host immunity. Several effector genes are found near telomeres and we will test whether their expression is correlated with telomere length. Given that telomere capping proteins are highly diverse, it’s possible that they may be good targets to selectively kill PCNs whilst sparing other soil nematodes.

The Ferreira group have a research interest in chromatin and telomeres and have studied telomeres in the related nematode species, C. elegans [2]. The Jones group are world leaders in PCNs and particularly in characterising effector function and expression [3]. By working in both groups, the student will receive training in general nematode biology as well and protein expression and purification, DNA handling and the generation and analysis of proteomic data. They will develop skills in presenting oral and written work to audiences from different disciplines, as well as having many opportunities to take part in outreach events.

Application procedure
In order to apply for this position, please follow the application instructions under to obtain the EASTBIO Application form.

Then, submit the EASTBIO application form and your academic transcripts as part of a formal online application-

In the online application form, you will be asked to provide contact details for two academic references. Please ask your referees to use the EASTBIO reference form provided under the link above when preparing their support letter, and to ensure references are provided by the deadline on 6 January 2021

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership

This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and UK level tuition. For international candidates, the University of St Andrews will cover the Home-International fee difference. Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria.


1. Coyle et al., Annu Rev Phytopathol. 2018
2. Ferreira et al., Journal of Cell Biology 2013
3. Eves-van den Akker et al., Genome Biology 2016
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