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Next generation sustainable dsRNA biopesticides

Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering

Sheffield United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Analytical Chemistry Biochemistry Bioinformatics Chemical Engineering Microbiology Molecular Biology

About the Project

We invite applications for a four-year BBSRC-funded iCASE PhD studentship to work under the supervision of Prof Mark Dickman and Dr S Brown at the University of Sheffield in collaboration Dr Peter Kilby at Syngenta.
The estimated global crop loss to pests is >$100 billion every year. These pests include insects, plant viruses, and fungi; many have no current means of control or have developed resistance against traditional chemical pesticides. Global crop yields suffer substantial economic losses (20-40% per year) owing to plant pests and pathogens, leading to reduced food security at household, national and global levels.

Therefore, there is an urgent need for the development of novel insect control strategies. The application of dsRNA for the sequence specific inhibition of genes via RNA interference (RNAi) is emerging as an important tool for the development of novel biopesticides. dsRNA biopesticides can either be expressed in host plants or spray applied like chemical pesticides. dsRNA biopesticides have been used to successfully block the expression of essential genes, resulting in insect mortality in a variety of crop pests.

This studentship aims to develop technology to optimise the production and efficacy of next generation, sustainable RNAi based biopesticides as alternatives to chemical insecticides. To achieve these aims it is proposed to use synthetic biology approaches to optimize dsRNA production in microbial systems. It is proposed to study the effect of a variety of parameters including sequence, length and plasmid design on the yield and homogeneity of the dsRNA biopesticide product. In addition, it is proposed to engineer and develop new media optimised for dsRNA production aimed at improving the yield of the dsRNA biopesticide product. During the project the student will gain expertise in plasmid engineering and design, microbial molecular biology, fermentation and fermentation process design, RNA extractions, HPLC analysis, and dsRNA gel analysis.

This is a prestigious BBSRC iCASE PhD studentship which is supported by the global agribusiness, Syngenta who will enhance its tax-free stipend to £18,600 p.a (subject to annual increase) and will provide periods of placement within the company’s research laboratories at Jealott’s Hill, Bracknell, UK.

Funding Notes

At least a 2:1 honours degree in a relevant subject, or equivalent. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with engineering backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions.

The studentships are available to UK and international students. Further information about student eligibility can be found here:
View Website

. The new UKRI eligibility requirements for international students (published Oct 2020) can be found here:
View Website


White Rose BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership iCASE Studentship in Mechanistic Biology
4 year fully-funded programme of integrated research and skills training, starting October 2021 funding includes:
• Research Council Stipend enhanced by support from Syngenta (estimated £18,600 per year)
• Tuition Fees at the UK fee rate (£4,473 per year)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Please note: international tuition fees for 2021 entry are £23,750

For more information contact:

Apply here:

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