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Novel chemistry to protect the wheat crop

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Plant pathogens pose major challenges to crop production and food security. How we protect plants from their most damaging pathogens is therefore vital to a future of sustainable agriculture. The Kettles laboratory combines molecular biology and protein biochemistry with computational approaches to study what makes bacterial and fungal phytopathogens so adept at causing disease. We also investigate the function of the plant innate immune system and how this could be enhanced to prevent infections.

The hemibiotrophic fungus Zymoseptoria tritici is the causative agent of septoria tritici blotch (STB) disease. It is found on wheat crops around the world and is particularly severe in maritime climates such as the UK and western Europe. Protection of wheat from Z. tritici relies heavily on fungicide application and improving wheat genetic resistance. However, Z. tritci isolates have rapidly overcome these protection strategies and so novel means of crop protection are urgently required.

For a pathogen to cause disease, it must deploy effector proteins or toxins to interfere with host physiology or suppress immunity. Timing of effector protein expression is critical to disease progression and pathogens typically deploy effectors in temporally-regulated waves throughout the infection process. Pathogens that are unable to successfully activate expression of effector proteins, or that have inappropriate effector expression profiles, will be less able to colonise their host and may inadvertently induce powerful immune responses. The fungus Z. tritici deploys several characterised effectors during wheat infection (Marshall et al. 2011, Zhong et al. 2017, Kettles et al. 2017) in addition to many uncharacterised proteins. This project will combine the plant pathology expertise in the Kettles laboratory with the Phenotypic Screening Platform of the Birmingham Drug Discovery Facility ( to screen large chemical libraries for compounds that interfere with or block Z. tritici effector expression during wheat colonisation. This project aims to identity novel compounds, effective against Z. tritici, which could be further developed as a novel crop protection strategy. The ultimate goal of this work is to expand the range of options available for the control of this important agricultural disease.
This project will allow the student to develop expertise in the areas of plant pathology, transcriptomics, protein biochemistry, confocal microscopy, fungal mutagenesis and assay development associated with high-throughput drug discovery. Applications are encouraged from graduates in the following disciplines: plant biology, microbiology, biochemistry and bioinformatics.

For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Graeme Kettles (). Please state the project title on any email enquiries.

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted under MIBTP 2020 PhD projects. MIBTP is a BBSRC funded Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) between the University of Warwick, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester, Aston University and Harper Adams University.

For more details, visit; View Website


1. Marshall et al. Plant Physiol. 2011 Jun;156(2):756-69. doi: 10.1104/pp.111.176347.
2. Zhong et al. New Phytol. 2017 Apr;214(2):619-631. doi: 10.1111/nph.14434.
3. Kettles et al. New Phytol. 2017 Jan;213(1):338-350. doi: 10.1111/nph.14215.

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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