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Eastbio Unravelling the mechanisms of plant-driven degradation of crop protection compounds

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  Dr N Havis, Dr Luis Novo, Dr N Holden, Prof Gary Loake  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The advent of synthetic, organic crop protection compounds (CPC) during the first half of the 20th century provided a new level of efficacy in pest control for agriculture and vector borne diseases, improving food production and disease prevention around the world, a need that continues today. However, many of these same novel pesticide products of the 1940s and 1950s also subsequently highlighted issues and concerns around environmental impact, leading to improvements in environmental standards for pesticides. Despite the numerous breakthroughs achieved by the crop protection industry since then, further efforts are required to reduce the persistence of CPC in soil and mitigate subsequent impacts on the environment, biodiversity, and human health. In this light, a green and cost-effective plant-based technique known as phytoremediation shows great promise for promoting the degradation of CPC. Plant-mediated degradation of CPC in the rhizosphere is supported by substrates secreted by roots that also enhance microbial growth and the magnitude of the active microbial population. Both rhizospheric and endophytic bacteria are known to play crucial roles in the biodegradation of CPC. Moreover, some plants can take up pesticides, which are then broken down by plant enzymes into harmless molecules (i.e., phytotransformation).

This project offers an exciting opportunity to work at the nexus of plant physiology, crop protection, soil science, and microbiology, to advance the knowledge on sustainable use of CPC. The doctoral candidate will primarily investigate the mechanisms of rhizospheric CPC degradation, including the role of plant growth-promoting bacteria and root exudates, the influence of soil chemistry, and in planta CPC transformation. Furthermore, the student will study the interaction between microorganisms (rhizospheric and endophytic) and crops with a view to improving CPC degradation and plant production, and screening compounds of optimal soil biodegradation profile. The student will engage in significant laboratory and glasshouse work, and will receive cross-disciplinary training (e.g., FTIR; GC-MS; XRF; microbial isolation, identification, and culture; soil physicochemical characterisation; plant physiological traits; rhizobox operation; statistical analysis; among others). The work will be carried out at Scotland’s Rural College at the King’s Buildings Campus in Edinburgh. However, the selected candidate will also benefit from a 6-month placement at Syngenta’s Jealott’s Hill International Research Centre in Berkshire, where they will receive additional training and access invaluable resources for the successful completion of the project. Publication of the results in peer-reviewed journals and presentation of the main findings in local and international scientific events are envisaged.


Application instructions can be found on the EASTBIO website-

1)     Download and complete the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion survey.

2)     Download and complete the EASTBIO Application Form.

3)     Submit both to SRUC, [Email Address Removed].

A complete application must include the following documents:

  • Completed EASTBIO application form
  • 2 References (to be completed on the EASTBIO Reference Form, also found on the EASTBIO website)
  • Academic Qualifications
  • English Language Qualification (if applicable)

Unfortunately due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications. Please make sure your application is complete by Monday 5th December 2022.

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 at UKRI standard rate and UK level tuition fees.

How good is research at SRUC - Scotland’s Rural College in Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Sciences?

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