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Fully funded MSc by Research in Biology: Determining the interactions among the soil microbiome, beneficial soil microbial inoculants and soil-adjuvants to promote crop productivity under drought.

   Department of Biology

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  Dr A Hodge, Dr Benjamin Langendorf  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

A move towards more sustainable agricultural systems is a long-term goal not only for the UK but globally, as highlighted by the UN 2030 agenda goals which set out the need for such sustainable development. These goals have resulted in increased interest in the addition of both beneficial microorganisms (such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and plant-growth promoting rhizobacteria added as ‘biofertilisers’) and soil-adjuvants (to improve plant-soil water relationships) to promote plant, hence, crop, productivity. Yet, in the case of biofertilisers, most of the known beneficial effects come from research on single species or simple communities. The soil microbiome is taxonomically rich, yet we understand little how microbiome diversity affects microbial activity and above-ground impacts, or how biofertiliser addition may influence these. The addition of soil-adjuvants on the soil microbiome is also unknown, but there does appear to be a synergistic interaction between soil-adjuvant and biofertiliser additions. Plant species identity is also important in shaping the microbial community. Moreover, given the urgent need for sustainable approaches to protect rain-fed agriculture against increasingly severe and frequent droughts due to climate change applications of both biofertilisers and soil-adjuvants are set to expand. Pest incidence is also likely to increase. Sap-feeding pests result in increased plant water stress while the plant’s defence response is moderated by the soil microbiome. Hence, there is an urgent need to investigate the interaction among crop plants and the soil microbial community and how biofertilisers and soil-adjuvant additions impact upon these interactions, the consequences for plant productivity, and the overall composition, diversity and activity of the soil microbiome. This project will also investigate how this is affected by water stress and if the benefits of these additions are subsequently moderated depending on the overall composition and diversity of the soil microbiome community.


(i) Determine the impact upon productivity of a range of crop species following biofertiliser and/or soil-adjuvant addition.

(ii) Examine how an increase in microbial diversity affects plant productivity following biofertiliser and/or soil-adjuvant addition.

(iii) Determine if drought conditions moderate (i) and (ii).

Novelty and Timeliness:

There are significant gaps in our understanding of soil microbiome diversity and function relations, their impact on plant productivity, and their subsequent resilience to environmental change. Addressing these questions, while incorporating current interventions to promote plant productivity, will enable early targeted management and intervention in soil systems.

The Department of Biology at the University of York is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

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 biological, chemical, and/or physical science.

Programme: MSc by Research in Biology (1 years)

Start date: 1st October 2022

Funding Notes

This studentship is fully funded by the industry partner, Momentive, and covers: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard UKRI rate for Master by Research students, (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK rate.

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