This course allows you to work alongside our world renowned experts from the School of Life Sciences and gain a ’real research’ experience. You will have the opportunity to select a research project from a variety of thematic areas of research.
You will be part of our collaborative working environment and have access to outstanding shared facilities such as microscopy and proteomics. Throughout your year, you will develop an advanced level of knowledge on your topic of interest as well as the ability to perform independent research in the topic area. Alongside basic science training in experimental design, data handling and research ethics, we will help you to develop skills in critical assessment and communication. This will be supported by workshops in scientific writing, presentation skills, ethics, laboratory safety, statistics, public engagement and optional applied bioinformatics.
Pests and diseases are a major threat to food security with losses ranging between 20-40%. Aphids are one of the most devastating insect pests, globally. These insects form a close association with their host and use specialized mouthparts (stylets), to probe leaf tissue and feed on the phloem over prolonged periods of time. Upon puncturing the leaf epidermis, the stylets follow a mainly extracellular route through the different cell layers to reach the phloem, and puncture cells along the pathway. During probing and feeding, saliva is secreted, which is rich in proteins and small molecules that function as effectors in reprogramming host processes underlying susceptibility. Functional characterization studies have implicated several effectors in aphid virulence, indicating that they are important players in plant-aphid interactions. In our bid to attribute function to an increasing number of candidate effectors, the identification of their cellular host targets represents a critical step. We previously initiated an aphid effector host target identification approach to determine the role of effectors in manipulating host cell processes. This led to the identification of 6 different effector-host protein interactions. This project will focus on the characterization of one of these interactions in more detail to understand the role of aphid-host protein interactions in host susceptibility.
The student will use molecular biology and biochemistry approaches, such mutagenesis, Gateway cloning and co-immunoprecipitation assays, to determine protein regions/amino acids required for protein-protein interactions. In addition, in planta functional assays will be used to explore the link between effector-host protein interactions and susceptibility. These assays will include in planta overexpression and silencing of host proteins as well as aphid effectors, and aphid performance assays. The project will help us better understand how aphids are able to manipulate the host to their own benefit, and generate novel insight into the molecular co-evolution of plant-herbivorous insect interactions.