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Plant immunity and the three-dimensional genome: Are changes to chromosome topology critical for plant defence?

Project Description

Every year, more than 20 % of agricultural productivity is lost due to plant diseases caused by pathogens. An essential element for the plant to effectively counteract pathogen attack is the ability to control the expression of its defence-related genes. Regulation of gene expression, switching genes on and off, is a process that is generally modulated on different molecular levels. One level, the folding and positioning of chromosomes inside the nucleus, has only recently been recognised as playing an important role in gene expression. Dynamic changes to the three-dimensional folding of chromosomes were linked to the differential regulation of individual genes, defined genomic regions and large chromosomal territories.

Understanding how the expression of plant immunity genes is regulated in 3D will expand our fundamental knowledge about plant defence and reveal novel paths to enhance the resilience of plants against pathogens.

In this PhD project, you will employ state-of-the-art molecular techniques including chromosome conformation capture (Hi-C), high-resolution microscopy and CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology. You will monitor and characterise the role of the three-dimensional chromosome structure during the interaction of A. thaliana with different microbial pathogens.

Our overarching long-term goal is to uncover novel principles in plant gene regulation and to identify novel targets for plant breeding against pests and for improved plant health.

This 4-year PhD project is fully funded by the Royal Society, includes generous research funds, and covers attendance at two conferences. The doctoral researcher will be based at the new flagship centre of the University of Bath – The Milner Centre for Evolution - and integrated into an ongoing collaboration between the Milner Centre and the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (LANGEBIO), Irapuato, Mexico. The supervisory team (Dr Hans-Wilhelm Nuetzmann, Dr Volkan Cevik, Prof Laurence Hurst and Dr Selene Fernández Valverde) and staff at the Department of Biology and Biochemistry will offer complementary expertise and support in plant-pathogen, chromosome and genome biology of this project.

We are looking for an applicant who is curious about molecular genetics and plant immunity and excited to apply cutting-edge and complex technology. Practical skills in chromatin genetics, plant molecular biology and/or plant immunity are advantageous but not required and specialised training will be provided.


Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or high Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or the equivalent qualification gained outside the UK) in a relevant subject. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.


Informal enquiries should be directed to Dr Hans-Wilhelm Nützmann, .

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biology:

On the application form, please ensure that you quote ‘Royal Society studentship’ in the Finance section and the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here:

Anticipated start date: 30 September 2019. An earlier start date would be possible, subject to agreement with Dr Nützmann.

Funding Notes

The successful candidate will receive a full studentship including UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free maintenance payment at the UKRI Doctoral stipend rate (£15,009 p.a., 2019/20 rate) for a period of up to 4 years. Funds will also be available for research expenses, training and conference attendance.

Note: ONLY UK and EU applicants are eligible for this studentship. International applicants will not be considered unless they can fully self-fund (fees and living costs).

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.50

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

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