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The role of Rho GTPases in plant immunity. PhD in Biosciences (SWBio DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, December 02, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr Michael Deeks, Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
- Dr David Richards, Department of Mathematics, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter
- Professor Harry Mellor, Department of Biochemistry, University of Bristol
- Dr David Horsell, Department of Physics and Astronomy, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter
- Prof Christian Soeller, Department of Physics and Astronomy, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter
- Prof Kim Hammond-Kosack, Rothamsted Research

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, EX4 4QJ

Programme Overview
The South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP) is led by the University of Bristol, together with the Universities of Bath, Cardiff and Exeter, alongside Rothamsted Research. This partnership also includes the following collaborative partners; Marine Biological Association (MBA), Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), Swansea University, UCB Pharma, University of the West of England (UWE) and SETsquared Bristol.

These institutions represent a distinctive group of bioscience research staff and students, with established international, national and regional networks, and widely recognised research excellence. As research leaders, we have a strong track record in advancing knowledge through high-quality research and teaching, in partnership with industry and the government.

For more information about the programme structure, please visit

Funding for 2020/21
These studentships are available to UK and EU nationals who have established UK residency (EU nationals must have ordinarily lived in the UK throughout the three years preceding the start of the studentship).

The four core universities (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter) have a very limited number of fully-funded four year studentships for EU students who do not meet the residency requirements (1-2 studentships per university)*. Please contact the relevant university for more information.

*These are not available for CASE DTP studentships or Standard DTP studentships with a collaborative partner

Project Description
This project utilises parallels with mammalian cell biology to better understand plant immunity. Discovering how
plants respond to microbial pathogens is of vital importance as 90% of all calorie intake worldwide comes
directly from crop plants. During infection, plant cells locate their immune defences to the site of infection with the aim of repelling the invader. In our recent paper ( we demonstrated that the protein FORMIN4 links the plant cytoskeleton to this immune response. This raises several questions such as: How does the plant cell ‘flag’ the site of microbial contact as being a special location to deliver cargo like FORMIN4? What are the specific molecules involved? Can we use paradigms from mammal and yeast FORMINs to help solve these questions and will this give us new fundamental insights into the evolution of eukaryotes as a whole?

This project will address these questions by exploring the role of Rho GTPases in plant immunity. Members of this protein family in animals and fungi recruit and activate FORMINs. In plants, Rho GTPases play complex roles in cell growth and development but their relationship to plant FORMINs is mysterious. You will combine advanced livecell light microscopy with molecular biology and plant pathology. Furthermore you will have the opportunity to learn the multidisciplinary skills needed to quantify data from images and use mathematical modelling to design experiments. You will join a supervisory and research team that are dedicated to integrating ’traditional’ wet-lab approaches typical of bioscience research laboratories with hypothesis testing guided by bioinformatics and mathematical modelling.

This project is co-supervised by Prof. Harry Mellor at the University of Bristol who is an expert in
mammalian FORMINs, Rho GTPases and polarised secretion. Both Exeter supervisors have industrial
collaborations and are keen to develop further industrial engagement as part of this project.

To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic and residence criteria in line with UKRI guidelines. Please see the following webpage for further details

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover:

• a stipend* at the standard UKRI rate; currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-2020
• research and training costs
• tuition fees (at the standard UKRI rate)
• additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship

Funding Notes

SWBio DTP funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20, on a full time basis.

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