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Sheffield Hallam University Featured PhD Programmes
Loughborough University Featured PhD Programmes

Structural and functional significance of Mucoromycotina ‘fine root endophyte’ fungal associates of vascular land plants

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

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Prof K Field , Prof T J Daniell No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The colonisation of the landmasses by plants >500 Mya was a major turning point in Earth’s history, drastically altering the development of the biosphere and providing the basis for all terrestrial life ever since. The hypothesis that early plants were facilitated in their invasion of the land environment by forming symbioses with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) is widely supported by fossil and molecular evidence. Recently, it was revealed that the earliest groups of extant plants form symbioses with a different group of fungi - Mucoromycotina “fine root endophytes” (MFRE) and it has since been shown that MFRE symbioses are nutritionally mutualistic. We have now discovered that MFRE symbioses are not limited to early divergent plants, but instead span the entire land plant phylogeny. Much of the fundamental biology of MFRE remains unknown, preventing us from understanding the true complexity, function and significance of plant-fungal symbioses in modern terrestrial ecosystems.
This project, part of the larger ERC-funded project “MYCOREV: the role of diverse symbiotic fungi in modern terrestrial ecosystems”, will explore fundamental knowledge gaps surrounding the structural and functional significance of plant-MFRE symbioses using a multi-scale approach, including lab experiments, field studies and microscopy to test the following key questions:
🡪 Do MFRE fungi engage in carbon-for-nutrient exchange with seed plant hosts?
🡪 Are the characteristic MFRE structures formed inside their host plant roots involved in bidirectional resource transfer?
🡪 How are MFRE-plant symbioses affected by a changing environment?
To address these questions, carbon and nutrient fluxes in a variety of seed plants will be studied, with plant species selected being key representatives of major global ecosystems. Sub-cellular plant-fungal interfaces will be examined in detail using state-of-the-art microscopical techniques.
The student will be supervised by Prof. Katie Field (https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/aps/staff-and-students/acadstaff/katie_field) and Prof. Tim Daniell (https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/aps/staff-and-students/acadstaff/daniell), experts in plant and fungal physiology and microbial biology, and will benefit from established project collaboration with Dr Silvia Pressel, expert in plant-fungal evolution, at the Natural History Museum, London. The student will acquire skills and become proficient in a variety of lab and field techniques, including isotope tracing, plant-fungal physiology, microscopy (SEM, TEM) and experimental design. They will have the opportunity to attend and present their research at UK and international meetings throughout the PhD project, e.g. the British Ecological Society annual meeting, and the International Conference on Mycorrhiza. These meetings will aid with dissemination of findings and develop the student’s presentation skills while providing them with excellent networking opportunities to facilitate their career development.

Funding Notes

4 year, ERC-funded PhD position. UKRI equivalent stipend/tuition fees.
Minimum 2.1 (or equiv) BSc in plant science, soil science, mycology, biology, ecology, or related science degree.


Hoysted GA, Jacob AS, Kowal J, Giesemann P, Bidartondo MI, Duckett JG, Gebauer G, Rimington WR, Schornack S, Pressel S, Field KJ. (2019). Mucoromycotina fine root endophyte fungi form nutritional mutualisms with vascular plants. Plant Physiology 181: 565-677
Field KJ, Bidartondo MI, Rimington WR, Hoysted GA, Beerling DJ, Cameron DD, Duckett JG, Leake JR, Pressel S. (2019) Functional complementarity of ancient plant-fungal mutualisms: contrasting nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon exchanges between Mucoromycotina and Glomeromycotina fungal symbionts of liverworts. New Phytologist 223(2): 908-921.
Field KJ, Pressel S. (2018) Tansley Review - Unity in diversity: structural and functional insights into an ancient partnership between plants and fungi. New Phytologist 220(4): 996-1011
Hoysted GA, Kowal J, Jacob A, Rimington WR, Duckett JG, Pressel S, Orchard S, Ryan M, Field KJ, Bidartondo MI. (2018) A mycorrhizal revolution. Current Opinions in Plant Biology 44:1-6
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