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Priming of defence in an elevated CO2 world


Project Description

Anthropogenic activity has raised the atmospheric and this is predicted to rise further over the course of the 21st century. Whilst elevated CO2 (eCO2) may increase plant productivity, several publications have described changes in the defensive capacity of plants after exposure of eCO2. Importantly, a study has reported that changes in CO2 concentration alter the capacity of some plants to express priming of defence, a sensitization of defence mechanisms that is largely understood as an adaptive component of the plant immune system. In tree species, it remains unknown whether eCO2 affects resistance mechanisms and priming of defence. The goal of this project is to study how oak immunity will be altered under eCO2.
Hypothesis: eCO2 acts as a stress stimulus that can alter the expression of defence mechanisms.
Preliminary data: experiments run by the supervisors have demonstrated the impact of eCO2 in response to biotic challenge. First, a metabolomics analysis identified that oak seedling metabolism is altered in a stronger way upon infection with powdery mildew and exposure to eCO2. Second, the amount of plant material consumed by leaf miners was found to be significantly reduced in the mature oak trees exposed eCO2. These results point towards an effect of eCO2 in the expression of plant defence mechanisms, and this is what this project will study.
Work-packages:
• Effect of eCO2 in resistance. Disease (powdery mildew) and insect pest (leaf miners) incidence (and phenology) will be assessed in seedlings and mature oak trees growing at the FACE facilities. Both supervisors have extensive expertise on image analysis of pests and diseases.
• Expression of priming of defence. This task will assess the metabolomic changes triggered by eCO2 and challenge with pathogens and pests.
• The interplay between pests and pathogens: This component will determine how the timing of infestation, both in terms of tree or leaf development, but also whether insect pest or pathogen takes hold first, influences resistance outcomes.
This project will address whether the changes triggered by eCO2 are altering the expression of priming of defence and consequently their resistance capacity to pests and pathogens.

Funding Notes

Full payment of tuition fees at Research Councils UK fee level for year of entry (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual maintenance grant at current UK Research Councils rates (national minimum doctoral stipend for 2019/20 is £15,009), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar by the University.
All studentships will come with a minimum of £3,000 Research Training Support Grant. This can be increased, if there are justified project costs, up to a maximum of £12,000.
Funding is available for UK or EU students only.

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