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Identification of filamentous pathogens in leaves using Raman spectroscopy

Project Description

The project will tackle the complex issue of filamentous pathogens in leaves, with a specific target to identify key chemical indicators of Ash Dieback (AD) and Oak Powdery Mildew (OPM). These pathogens have resulted in the death of billions of trees worldwide and specifically impact the regeneration of forests due to the increased impact on young trees. Oak and Ash provide huge economic, environmental and social impact in Europe, due to fast growth and tolerance to different environmental conditions. However, there is no known full genetic resistance to the diseases which hinders development and regeneration.
This project will study the change of leaf structure pre and post disease infection to understand the mechanism further. This will increase our understanding of the disease, examining any defence mechanisms that can persist and what possible early stage indicators may present. By identifying key disease indicators, it would be possible to target treatment or quarantine of trees at early stages to reduce loss.
Our project aims to utilise Raman spectroscopy (RS) to explore the chemical change in both a macro and micro-environment to assess how diseased leaves deviate from a healthy sample. RS is an advanced vibrational spectroscopy technique that is non-destructive and allows for accurate measurement of the chemical fingerprint of biological samples. This technique has shown key promise for diagnostics in cancer and other medical conditions, however, its use to detect disease in forest trees is completely revolutionary. Several short studies on leaf structure indicate that RS is a promising tool for assessment of AD and OPM.
The project aims to study the diseases in a controlled laboratory setting and at the BIFoR FACE facilities, where the effect of CO2 in disease resistance of a mature forest will be assessed. Therefore, we will build a targeted model of disease infection and resistance, which will lead on to the study of leaf samples in real forest conditions. Finally, we will design a RS device for in-field testing and monitoring, thus providing a prodigious tool for disease identification at early stages of infection.

Funding Notes

Full payment of tuition fees at Research Councils UK fee level for year of entry (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual maintenance grant at current UK Research Councils rates (national minimum doctoral stipend for 2019/20 is £15,009), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar by the University.
All studentships will come with a minimum of £3,000 Research Training Support Grant. This can be increased, if there are justified project costs, up to a maximum of £12,000.
Funding is available for UK or EU students only.

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