Targeting biopesticide applications in arable crops

   School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

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  Prof Neil Boonham, Dr D George, Dr Femke van den Berg  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Interested in understanding how precision agriculture technologies can help the deployment of biopesticides? Working in collaboration Fera Science Ltd., this PhD will investigate the potential of automated spore sensing to measure the influx of inoculum into crops and use this information to better deploy biopesticides in arable crops.

Use of conventional crop protection products is under increasing pressure following withdrawal of actives due to regulation (linked to human and environmental safety concerns) and resistance (increasingly prevalent for most available classes of pesticide). This has driven significant growth in the biopesticide market (grown 300% between 2008-2018 and currently worth £6 billion globally). Despite the investment, biopesticides are not widely used in the arable sector, where the biggest benefits could be realised due to the large area of crop being managed.

Conventional pesticides have good residual activity and thus timing of application has a relatively large window during which efficacy is retained and application can be directed to plant growth stages. Conversely, biopesticides (either living organisms or biological products) lack significant residual activity and need to be applied more precisely and under the most optimal environmental conditions. Microbial biocontrol agents act via a range of modes of action, including nutrient competition, direct antagonism with the pathogen or inducement of plant resistance. Depending on the mode of action the biopesticide may need to be applied as the pathogen arrives on leaf to deliver optimum effect.

The work focuses on light leaf spot (Pyrenopeziza brassicae) and stem canker (Leptosphaeria maculans) in oil seed rape. We will utilise state of the art, automated spore detection technology (SporeSentry, Optisense Ltd.). In work carried out at Newcastle University Farms to identify movement of inoculum into crops and integrate information from disease forecasting platforms to pinpoint pathogen infection events and test suitable biopesticide spray windows. To better understand the efficacy of microbial biopesticides we will conduct leaf surface microbiome studies, to evaluate the interactions between the pathogen, biopesticide and microbial communities, with an aim to understand the timing of interactions.

This is a studentship funded by the Morley Agricultural Foundation (TMAF). The successful candidate will become an affiliated student with the BBSRC NLD DTP programme, joining this programme's training and development events, as well as joining the cohort of three current TMAF students.


Applications should be made by emailing [Email Address Removed] with:

  • a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees);
  • a covering letter – clearly 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;
  • copies of your relevant undergraduate degree transcripts and certificates;
  • a copy of your IELTS or TOEFL English language certificate (where required);
  • a copy of your passport (photo page).


In addition to the above items, please email a completed copy of the Morley Additional Details Form (as a 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]

The deadline for all applications is 12noon on Monday 15th January 2024.

Please note that this project is not part of the BBSRC NLD DTP; this is an affiliated project only and you should not select this project as one of your two options if you are applying to join the BBSRC NLD DTP in 2024.

Agriculture (1) Computer Science (8)

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentship - UKRI-level stipend, UKRI-level home fees, training and research costs are funded by The Morley Agricultural Foundation (TMAF).
Please note that UKRI home fees only are covered by this studentship; applicants who do not qualify for home fees may apply if they can make up the University’s international fees rate.
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