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The Soil Microbiome in Legume Rotations

Project Description

NIAB invites applications for a four year PhD studentship sponsored by The Morley Agricultural Foundation (TMAF) in the Department of Plant Pathology at NIAB, Cambridge, in collaboration with the department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge. The studentship will be supervised by Dr Thomas Wood (NIAB) and Dr Nik Cunniffe (Department of Plant Sciences).

This multi-disciplinary project will utilise field experimentation, metagenomics and computer modelling to explore potential differences in the microbiome in soils that have been intensively cropped with legumes, compared to those without a history of cultivation in order to improve understanding of species composition and dynamics, and how potential differences are influencing nodulation and crop productivity. Metagenomics data will be used to identify known species and operational taxonomic units (OTUs) to characterise potential differences between the contrasting rotations. The successful candidate will extend microbiome profiling to soils obtained from pea and faba bean crops with contrasting cultivation histories and different rotational practices to investigate effects on species diversity.

The researcher will investigate modelling approaches exploiting sequence and environmental data to test whether it is possible to predict how different host genotypes may influence soil microbial populations across rotations, and how frequently soils must be sampled in order to provide accurate interpretation of shifts in key microbial communities. Insight gained from wider-scale profiling of field sites over successive cropping seasons will be used to develop soil health bio-indicators for legume cropping and metagenomics data will be utilised to construct phylogenies to compare species profiles associated with healthy and less-productive land. A meta-analysis integrating agronomic, climatic and varietal information will be conducted to investigate potential associations between variables with differences in beneficial and deleterious microorganisms, and crop performance in elite pea and faba bean varieties. Finally, a panel of pea and faba beans will be screened to identify differences in the ability to influence microbiome composition and provide new sources of linked markers for plant breeders.

The successful applicant should have experience and an interest in crop genetics, plant pathology, population genetics, microbial sciences and/or mathematical modelling. Project work will comprise of computational, laboratory, glasshouse and field-based tasks. Experience in the use of ‘R’, linux and familiarity with coding, or a willingness to develop the relevant skills will be an essential requirement. A full, clean driving licence is also essential for travelling to experimental field sites in the UK and to make occasional visits to TMAF to update them on progress.

The researcher will have the benefit of further training support and development alongside the University of Cambridge’s Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership cohort. This TMAF funded PhD is open to UK and EU citizens who meet UK residency requirements. If you have any queries about your eligibility please contact Dr T Wood.

Applications must be made through the University of Cambridge Applicant Portal. For information please see:

Applicants must apply to the PhD in Plant Sciences programme (course code BLPS22) and state clearly on the application form that they are applying for this studentship, indicating the name of the proposed supervisors.

Funding Notes

This TMAF funded four year PhD studentship is open to UK and EU citizens who meet UK residency requirements. If you have any queries about your eligibility please contact Dr T Wood.

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