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Seaweed diseases: understanding seaweed host-pathogen interactions to improve commercial seaweed production, PhD in Medical Sciences Studentship(BBSRC SWBio DTP funded)

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About the Project

The SWBio DTP is one of the 12 Doctoral Training Partnerships funded by the BBSRC to provide PhD training in areas of their strategic relevance. The SWBio DTP is a consortium comprising the Universities of Bristol (lead), Bath, Cardiff, Exeter, and Rothamsted Research.
The aim of this DTP is to produce highly motivated and excellently trained postgraduates in the BBSRC priority areas of Agriculture & Food Security (AFS) and World-Class Underpinning Bioscience (WCUB). These are growth areas of the biosciences and for which there will be considerable future demand.

The award:
This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP).

Project Description:

Wild harvesting and farming of seaweed for food, feed, fertiliser and alginate is a rapidly growing industry. In the UK, the demand for seaweed for food has soared in recent years, and several species are now being sold as ‘super foods’. Located in the South West, The Cornish Seaweed Company is the largest English company sustainably wild harvesting and cultivating a range of native seaweeds including Saccharina lattisima (sugar kelp) and Palmaria palmata (dulse). Sugar kelp is one of the most important largescale economically cultivated seaweeds in Europe. Dulse is the most sought-after culinary seaweed but with limited stock in Europe and fast-growing demand. Disease triggered by pathogenic microbes is increasingly recognized as a major factor in the global degradation of natural marine ecosystems. Diseases also have an important economic impact, decreasing the yield of farmed seaweeds (global value of US$ 6 billion p.a. (World Bank 2016)) by at least 40 %. Bleaching spot (BS) 50/95 disease, for which we have identified Pseudoalteromona sarctica and Pseudoaltero monas piscicida as causative agents (M. Saha, unpublished data), can decrease sugar kelp and dulse yields in both nursery and field cultivations.

The main aims of the project are:
(a) to enhance fundamental knowledge on seaweed infectious diseases
(b) to apply this knowledge to improve aquaculture practices and maximise yield in seaweed farming in the South West and beyond.

Objectives (O):
O1: Knowing that abiotic factors play a critical role in inducing or preventing microbial diseases by modifying seaweeds chemical defence against pathogens (Saha etal., under review), the student will determine the optimal light, temperature and salinity regime for indoor cultures to prevent BS disease.
O2: Using anti-microbial assays (settlement and growth bioassays), test whether the chemical defence (against pathogens) of both seaweeds is upregulated at optimal abiotic conditions.
O3: Using bioassay-guided fractionation and mass spectrometry, isolate and identify the seaweed antimicrobials produced.
O4: Use metabolomics to see whether there are qualitative and quantitative differences in metabolite production between healthy and diseased individuals.
O5: Use high-throughput sequencing to characterise the microbiota of healthy and diseased individuals.
O6: Knowing that seaweed- associated bacteria form a vast reservoir of anti-microbial diversity, the student will use culture-based approaches to screen for (beneficial) bacteria with anti-microbial activity against seaweed pathogens. The student will screen potentially beneficial bacteria from healthy individuals for production and identification of anti-microbials 51 / 95 against the respective pathogen.

Funding Notes

BBSRC SWBio DTP funded CASE studentship available for September 2021 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,285 per annum for 2020-21, on a full time basis.

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