Investigating the biology and importance of microbial symbiosis in the plant pest, Empoasca decipiens

   Faculty of Health and Life Science

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  Prof G Hurst, Dr S Zytynska  No more applications being accepted  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The biology of many animals is partly defined by the microbes with which they interact – digestion, immunity, physiology and behaviour are all impacted by microbial partners. These symbioses are most intimate in insects, where the microbes are commonly passed between mother and progeny, in or on eggs. This vertical transmission makes the symbiont an integral – and in some cases essential - part of the host’s biology.

These symbioses are biologically interesting – but also have applied importance. Symbionts can alter important aspects of host biology – such as insect vector competence – and thus be deployed in the field to improve human and plant health. They may also represent ‘weak links’ in organisms that can be targeted – as in control of filarial infections through targeting their required symbiont.

In this project, we will characterize the symbiosis between a gammaproteobacterial symbiont – commonly called BEV – and hemipteran (plant sap-sucking) bugs. We aim to understand how the symbiont establishes in its insect host, how it impacts on host biology, and how it affects the interaction between insect and plant. Subsequently, we will address wider questions: Does the bacterium travel through the plant? Does it cause plant damage? Does it potentiate or inhibit the transmission of other pathogens from bug to plant?

You will work between the insect symbiosis group in Liverpool. You’ll receive training in experimental analysis of insect-microbe and insect-plant interactions, molecular microbiology, molecular biology, statistical analysis, and genomics.

We welcome applications from students with an interest in entomology, microbiology, crop sciences. The most important attribute is the desire to be able to work with all aspects of the interaction – microbe, insect and plant.

Informal enquiries and expressions of interest in applying may be made to Professor Hurst on: [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This is a self funded opportunity.


1. (2020) Thermal sensitivity of the Spiroplasma-Drosophila hydei protective symbiosis: The best of climes, the worst of climes. Molecular Ecology in press.
2. (2020) Symbiont-mediated protection varies with wasp genotype in the Drosophila melanogaster–Spiroplasma interaction. Heredity 124: 592–602.
3. (2020) The Hypercomplex Genome of an Insect Reproductive Parasite Highlights the Importance of Lateral Gene Transfer in Symbiont Biology. MBio 11: e02590-19.
4. (2017) Torix group Rickettsia are widespread in Culicoides biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae), reach high frequency and carry unique genomic features. Environmental Microbiology, 19(10), 4238-4255.
5. (2020) Septoria Leaf Blotch and Reduced Nitrogen Availability Alter WRKY Transcription Factor Expression in a Codependent Manner. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21:11.
6. (2018) OXI1 kinase plays a key role in resistance of Arabidopsis towards aphids (Myzus persicae). Transgenic research 27:4. T
7. (2016) RNAi-mediated knockdown of the voltage gated sodium ion channel TcNav causes mortality in Tribolium castaneum. Scientific reports 6:1.
8. (2020) Induction of defence in cereals by 4-FPA suppresses insect pest populations and increases crop yields in the field. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) (
9. (2020) Does long-term Bt rice planting pose risks to spider communities and their capacity to control planthoppers? Plant Biotechnology Journal (doi: 10.1111/pbi.13358).
10. (2018) Resistance of rice to insect pests mediated by suppression of serotonin biosynthesis. Nature Plants, DOI: 10.1038/s41477-018-0152-7 (2018).
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