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Evolution Education Trust PhD project: Are changing environments driving hypervirulent fungal pathogen evolution?

   Department of Life Sciences

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  Dr Neil Brown  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for this PhD opportunity based at the Milner Centre for Evolution, a unique, cross-faculty research centre bridging biology, health and education. The Centre is dedicated to a broad range of fundamental research questions relating to evolutionary biology; from in deep time to the micro-evolutionary dynamics of a disease outbreak. We have a strong focus on public engagement and outreach. We are located in a dedicated multi-million-pound building that opened on the University campus in September 2018.

Intended Supervisory Team:

Lead Supervisor:

  • Dr Neil Brown, University of Bath, Department of Biology & Biochemistry


  • Dr Daniel Henk, University of Bath, Department of Biology & Biochemistry, Milner Centre for Evolution
  • Dr Ryan Ames, University of Exeter, Living Systems Institute
  • Prof Kim Hammond-Kosack, Rothamsted Research

Project Overview:

Fungi are notoriously quick to adapt. Now we are witnessing a rise in fungal disease outbreaks and the evolution of aggressive hypervirulent pathogens. These pathogens threaten plant, animal, human, and ecosystem health, termed ‘One-Health’. But what is driving this change? Altering environmental pressures and climate change are believed to be accelerating pathogen evolution. But predicting when, why, and how these adaptations occur is challenging. This knowledge gap hinders the development of durable practices which will protect the health of our ecosystems and society in an ever-changing environment. We urgently need to better understand how our altering environment and agricultural practices are driving evolutionary trade-offs in fungal pathogens that threaten our One-Health.

Wheat represents a major component of our global ecosystem and is a primary provider of calories for animals and humans. Fusarium Head Blight is the most damaging floral disease of wheat and a serious health hazard, due to contamination of the grain with mycotoxins that are harmful to plants, animals, and humans. Accordingly, this PhD will explore how the increasingly aggressive pathogen of Fusarium graminearum adapts to future environments, evolves hypervirulence and breaks disease control options. It will deploy evolutionary biology techniques, fungal genetics (CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing) and bioinformatics to understand the adaptations and the phenotypic trade-offs involved. This knowledge will be disseminated to influential stakeholders though exhibits at key agricultural events, where it will help inform the design of new approaches that could mitigate the impact of harmful fungal disease on our ‘One-health’, both now and in future climates.

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree (or the equivalent) in a relevant discipline.  A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.

Enquiries and Applications:

Candidates are encouraged to discuss the project directly with Dr Neil Brown before applying (email address: [Email Address Removed]).

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biology.

On the application form, quote ‘Evolution Education Trust’ in the Finance section and the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section. If applying for more than one project, quote the projects in order of preference and upload a separate personal statement relevant to each one.

Your application must be complete when you submit it to us. Incomplete applications cannot be considered. Please ensure you have completed all fields on the application form and supplied the contact details of TWO referees willing to provide us with a reference when requested (one must be from your most recent place of study). Also, you should ensure that you have uploaded all the required documents. See our website for more information.

Funding Eligibility:

To be eligible for funding, you must qualify as a Home student. The eligibility criteria for Home fee status are detailed and too complex to be summarised here in full; however, as a general guide, the following applicants will normally qualify subject to meeting residency requirements: UK nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), Irish nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), those with Indefinite Leave to Remain and EU nationals with pre-settled or settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme). This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Additional information may be found on our fee status guidance webpage, on the GOV.UK website and on the UKCISA website.

Exceptional Overseas students (e.g. with a UK Master’s Distinction or international equivalent and relevant research experience), who are interested in this project, should contact the lead supervisor in the first instance to discuss the possibility of applying for supplementary funding.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from diverse backgrounds and under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project may be considered for a 3.5-year fully-funded Evolution Education Trust Studentship which will cover tuition fees at the Home rate, a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,609 for 2021/22) and a generous budget for research, training and outreach expenses. Eligibility criteria apply – see Funding Eligibility section above.
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