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Reducing food waste and risks from the bioaccumulation of pesticides in Cucurbits (pumpkins and courgettes) (Ref: CTP-SAI-024)


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  Mr Ron Stobart, Mr Bruce Napier, Dr N Graham, Dr Tristan Dew  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Cucurbits are a major global food source with an annual production of c. 240 Mt. However, food waste can be an issue. Pumpkins and courgettes (as well as other cucurbits, such as squashes, melons, etc) can bioaccumulate certain banned (organochlorine) pesticides present in soil from historic use. If maximum legally permitted residue levels are exceeded, the crops cannot be sold – this can lead to significant issues with food waste and financial impact to farmers. However, uptake of these banned insecticides (such as aldrin and dieldrin) also represents a unique potential phytoremediation opportunity. Current understanding of this bioaccumulation is limited and this project aims to unravel the risks and mechanisms of uptake. Techniques for early prediction and other risk analysis tools will help farmers, as currently crops can only be tested near maturity. The student will gain a wide experience having access to world leading facilities at University of Nottingham and NIAB in Cambridge (covering metabolomics, genomics, transcriptomics and plant phenomics), as well as being able to connect with retail expertise at Sainsbury’s and working with cucurbit growers. 


Present understanding of this bioaccumulation is limited. This project aims to unravel the fundamental mechanisms and metabolic effects of insecticide uptake in pumpkins and courgettes. At present cucurbits can only be tested when approaching maturity – new techniques for the early prediction and better understanding risk of insecticide accumulation will provide risk analysis tools for farmers deciding whether to grow such crops on their land. The research will be supported by existing field crop records and research data. By comparing the uptake of insecticides by different cucurbit species and varieties, we will develop tools and assess their relative utility around i) indicators of soil contamination, ii) crop suitably for food production and iii) any potential phytoremediation tools for farmland.


This PhD will be registered and based at the University of Nottingham (although will involve travel to other partners and farm sites).


The student will have access to world leading facilities at University of Nottingham and NIAB in Cambridge, and will gain training in cutting edge techniques from the fields of metabolomics, genomics, transcriptomics and plant phenomics.

The student will also have unique opportunities to engage with produce retail experts at Sainsbury’s, and for stakeholder engagement via access to individual cucurbit farmers and grower groups. Collectively this group can provide detailed guidance, expert knowledge and field data around crop production, best practice and field research. By understanding the challenges to professionals working at each stage of the food chain, we aim to translate fundamental discoveries into practical tools to enhance the resilience and sustainability of the wider UK and global produce sectors.

There will be additional skills training to enhance employability and research capability. All CTP-SAI students will receive Graduate Training in Leadership and Management from MDS . Additionally, students will create their Personal Development Plan (PDP) to identify their development needs and areas of strength. Each student will receive individual coaching and mentoring pertinent to their career plans and skills development in addition to the scientific project supervision.


Placements are a key feature of CTP and UKRI-BBSRC expects all doctoral candidates on a CTP programme to undertake a placement. Placements can be in the form of research placements (3-18 months duration) or used more flexibly for experiential learning of professional skills for business and/or entrepreneurship. All placements are developed in collaboration between the partners with input from the doctoral candidate.


For informal enquiries please contact Ron StobartBruce Napier, Tristan Drew or Neil Graham.

The candidate should be interested in piecing together evidence from many sources to track down the factors leading to bioaccumulation of certain insecticides in pumpkins and other cucurbits...which at this moment is largely a mystery. 

Beginning in October 2023, the successful candidate should have (or expect to have) an Honours Degree (or equivalent) with a minimum of 2.1 in Plant Science, Applied Statistics, or other related science subjects. Students with an appropriate Masters degree are particularly encouraged to apply. Demonstrable hands-on experience of molecular biology techniques and/or small molecule analysis would be of benefit.

We welcome UK, EU, and international applicants. Candidates whose first language is not English must provide evidence that their English language is sufficient to meet the specific demands of their study. Candidates should check the requirements for each host organisation they are applying to, but IELTS 6.5 (with no component below 6.0) or equivalent is usually the minimum standard. 

Anyone interested should complete the online application form before the deadline of 6th January 2023. Interviews will take place at the end of January/beginning of February 2023.

Please contact [Email Address Removed] for further application details.

Apply now

Funding Notes

This studentship is for four years and is fully funded in line with UKRI-BBSRC standard rates. These are:
An annual maintenance stipend of £17,668, fee support of £4,596, a research training support grant of £5,000 and conference and UK fieldwork expenses of £300.
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