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Reducing insect pests on cereal crops by exploiting beneficial species interactions

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  • Full or part time
    Dr S Zytynska
    Prof A Gatehouse
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Project Description

soil microbiomes | insect pests | crops | experimental | chemical ecology

We will use a combination of greenhouse and chemical analyses to understand how beneficial soil microbes reduce sap-feeding insect pests through plant-mediated effects on the insect itself and by recruiting natural enemies of the pest. Climate change is expanding insect pest range distributions and shifting insect phenology leading to desynchronization with natural enemy populations and resulting in increased chances of pest outbreaks. With increasing levels of insecticide resistance within pest populations, we need to find alternative solutions for pest control in our cropping systems. Promising strategies include manipulating soil microbiomes for increased plant resistance to pests and promoting recruitment of natural enemies for pest control services in crop fields.

Greenhouse experiments will use multifactorial experiments to unravel important interactions that have strong potential for reducing pest numbers in crop fields. This work will involve training on experimental design, plant-microbe-insect handling, and statistical and bioinformatics analyses. Chemical analysis will focus on plant chemicals that can alter insect growth rates and enhance the effectiveness of natural enemies for pest population control. This analysis will be undertaken in the Centre for Metabolomics Research at Liverpool University. The student will also spend time at the co-supervisor’s research group in Newcastle University, where they will use transcriptomic analysis on insect samples to address the molecular response within the insect. These three aspects of the project are complementary and will come together to produce a fuller understanding of how beneficial soil microbes can reduce pest populations in our crop systems.


Applications should be made by emailing [Email Address Removed] with a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees), and a covering letter – including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project and at the selected University. Applications not meeting these criteria will be rejected.

In addition to the CV and covering letter, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (Word document) to [Email Address Removed]. A blank copy of this form can be found at:

Informal enquiries may be made to [Email Address Removed]

Please note that the closing date for applications is Monday 18th May at 12noon.

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year BBSRC studentship under the Newcastle-Liverpool-Durham DTP. The successful applicant will receive research costs, tuition fees and stipend (£15,009 for 2019-20). The PhD will start in October 2020. Applicants should have, or be expecting to receive, a 2.1 Hons degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. EU candidates must have been resident in the UK for 3 years in order to receive full support. Please note, there are 2 stages to the application process.


1. Zytynska S.E., Eicher M., Weisser W. & Rothballer M. (2019) Climate change alters beneficial crop-microbe-invertebrate interactions. bioRxiv, 709089.

2. Zytynska, S.E., Guenay, Y., Sturm, S., Clancy, M.V., Senft, M., Schnitzler, J.P., Pophaly, S.D., Wurmser, C. & Weisser, W. (2019) Effect of plant chemical variation and mutualistic ants on the local population genetic structure of an aphid herbivore. Journal of Animal Ecology, 88, 1089-1099

3. Zytynska S.E. & Meyer S.T. (2019) Effects of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes on the protective microbiome of insects - a review. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 167, 2

4. Senft M., Clancy M.V., Weisser W.W., Schnitzler J.-P. & Zytynska S.E. (2019) Additive effects of plant chemotype, mutualistic ants and predators on aphid performance and survival. Functional Ecology, 33, 139-151.

5. Clancy M.V., Zytynska S.E., Moritz F., Witting M., Schmitt-Kopplin P., Weisser, W.W. & Schnitzler, J.P. (2018) Metabotype variation in a field population of tansy plants influences aphid host selection. Plant Cell and Environment, 41, 2791-2805.

6. Clancy M.V., Zytynska, S.E., Senft M., Weisser W.W. & Schnitzler J.-P. (2016) Chemotypic variation in terpenes emitted from storage pools influences early aphid colonisation on tansy. Scientific Reports, 6, 38087.

7. Guan W, Ferry, Edwards MG, Bell HA, Othman H, Gatehouse JA and Gatehouse AMR (2015) Proteomic Analysis Shows that Stress Response Proteins are Significantly Up-regulated in Resistant Diploid Wheat (Triticum monococcum) in Response to Attack by the Grain Aphid (Sitobion avenae). Molecular Breeding 35:57.

8. Zytynska SE, Fleming S, Tetard-Jones C, Kertesz MA, Preziosi RF (2010) Community genetic interactions mediate indirect ecological effects between a parasitoid wasp and rhizobacteria. Ecology 91(6):1563-1568.

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