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Investigating the role of TOR kinase in the rice blast fungus (TALBOT_S22DTP)

   Graduate Programme

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  Prof N Talbot  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Rice blast disease is one of the most serious diseases affecting rice cultivation around the world, destroying enough rice each year to feed 60 million people. The disease is caused by the fungus Magnaporthe (Syn. Pyricularia) oryzae, which also threatens wheat and millet production, affecting Asia and Africa in particular.

To cause plant infection, the rice blast fungus develops a specialised infection structure called an appressorium, which develops enormous pressure that is applied at the leaf surface as physical force to rupture the rice cuticle and allow the fungus to infect leaf tissue. Understanding how appressoria develop and function provides a potential means to combat rice blast disease by preventing initial infection. Appressorium development requires programmed cell death of the fungal spore and recycling of its contents into the infection cell. This process requires autophagy and is tightly coupled to cell cycle control.

This project will investigate the control of plant infection by TOR kinase, a nutrient-sensitive central controller of cell growth. TOR is implicated in many human diseases and is the target of rapamycin, a drug with many therapeutic uses. Its role in fungal pathogenesis is, however, not well understood. The project will characterise TOR kinase in M. oryzae, investigate its activation and regulatory control, identify its downstream phosphorylated protein targets, as well as its ability to control infection-associated autophagy, which is essential for rice blast disease.

The project will provide broad training in molecular genetics, genomics, cell biology, phosphoproteomics, and plantmicrobeinteractions. Intellectually, the project provides a challenge in understanding how a global regulator of growth is required for a specific cellular differentiation process, associated with fungal pathogenesis.

The Norwich Research Park Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP) is open to UK and international candidates for entry October 2021 and offers postgraduates the opportunity to undertake a 4-year PhD research project whilst enhancing professional development and research skills through a comprehensive training programme. You will join a vibrant community of world-leading researchers. All NRPDTP students undertake a three-month professional internship placement (PIPS) during their study. The placement offers exciting and invaluable work experience designed to enhance professional development. Full support and advice will be provided by our Professional Internship team. Students with, or expecting to attain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the NRPDTP programme. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on Tuesday 25th January, Wednesday 26th January and Thursday 27th January 2022.

Visit our website for further information on eligibility and how to apply: https://biodtp.norwichresearchpark.ac.uk/

Our partners value diverse and inclusive work environments that are positive and supportive. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Funding Notes

This project is awarded with a 4-year Norwich Research Park Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP) PhD studentship. The studentship includes payment of tuition fees (directly to the University), a stipend for each year of the studentship (2021/2 stipend rate: £15,609), and a Research Training Support Grant for each year of the studentship of £5,000 p.a.


He M, Su J, Xu Y, Chen J, Chern M, Lei M, Qi T, Wang Z, Ryder LS, Tang B, Osés-Ruiz M, Zhu K, Cao Y, Yan X,
Eisermann I, Luo Y, Li W, Wang J, Yin J, Lam SM, Peng G, Sun X, Zhu X, Ma B, Wang J, Liu J, Qing H, Song L, Wang L, Hou Q, Qin P, Li Y, Fan J, Li D, Wang Y, Wang X, Jiang L, Shui G, Xia Y, Gong G, Huang F, Wang W, Wu
X, Li P, Zhu L, Li S, Talbot NJ, Chen X. (2020) Discovery of broad-spectrum fungicides that block septin-dependent infection processes of pathogenic fungi. Nature Microbiol 5:1565-1575.
Ryder LS, Dagdas YF, Kershaw MJ, Venkataraman, C, Madzvamuse, A., Yan, X., Cruz-Mireles, N., Soanes, DM,
Osés-Ruiz, M, Styles, V, Menke, FLH, Talbot, NJ. (2019) A sensor kinase controls turgor-driven plant infection by
the rice blast fungus. Nature. 574:423-427
Sakulkoo W, Osés-Ruiz M, Oliveira Garcia E, Soanes DM, Littlejohn, GL, Hacker, C., Correia, A., Valent B, Talbot
NJ (2018). A single fungal MAP kinase controls plant cell-to-cell invasion by the rice blast fungus. Science.
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