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Genomic diversity and molecular basis of pathogenicity of novel oomycete pathogens

Project Description

The oomycetes represent a diverse group of eukaryotic organisms that cause destructive disease in animals and plants. Plant infections are more widely known because they are associated with historical famines caused by shortage in the production of key food crops. Animal infections are also of considerable importance to aquaculture and human health. We have recently discovered that oomycetes are common natural pathogens of the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, which allowed us to establish the first tractable system to study animal infections by oomycetes in the lab. This project integrates experimental work and bioinformatics (the balance of which will depend on the interests of the selected student). On the bioinformatic side, the student will use genomics to characterise the nematode-infecting oomycetes in comparison to related plant, fish and human oomycete pathogens. Oomycetes secrete virulence factors, which are able to counteract host defence responses to promote pathogen growth. Our aim is to predict such putative virulence factors from the genomes of the sequenced oomycete pathogens. On the experimental side, predicted virulence factors will be validated by studying their functional impact on host immunity and physiology upon heterologous expression in C. elegans. This project will provide new fundamental insights into the evolution of an important group of eukaryotic pathogens. Importantly, oomycetes are able to infect both free-living and parasitic nematodes, therefore understanding their pathogenicity offers the potential to design biocontrol-oriented strategies to tackle nematode-related plant and animal disease.

Residential & Academic Eligibility

UK or EU nationals who are ordinarily residents of the UK are eligible to apply. Candidates must carefully read Annex 1 of the RCUK Training Grant Guide ( to determine their own eligibility before applying. Candidates are expected to have a BSc degree, in a relevant subject, at 2:1 level or better, as well as a postgraduate Masters qualification, by October 2020. Exceptional students at Bachelor’s level may also be considered.

How to Apply

Please visit our BBSRC DTP webpage to obtain more information on how to apply (

Deadline for applications: 12noon on Friday, 21 February 2020.

Funding Notes

The studentship cover: (i) an annual tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£17,009 for 2019-2020, to be confirmed for 2020-2021 but typically increases annually in line with inflation), (ii) contribution towards research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate.

Studentships will last for 3.5 years full-time.

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