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Under attack by a cereal killer: the hunt for disease susceptibility factors (SAUNDERS_J22CASE)

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  Dr D Saunders  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Wheat rusts are a continual global threat to wheat production, with the potential to cause total crop loss in untreated susceptible varieties. Traditionally the most effective means of controlling wheat rust has been deployment of resistant wheat varieties, through integration of partial or race-specific resistance genes. However, these race-specific resistance genes are easily overcome by small genetic changes in the pathogen’s effector repertoire. As an alternative, disrupting the function of host genes that play essential roles in pathogen colonization (i.e., susceptibility factors) can act as a more durable form of host resistance. The best-known example is loss of function of the mildew-resistance locus (Mlo) in barley, which enhances powdery mildew resistance and has been widely manipulated in breeding pipelines. 

We recently identified a number of wheat genes linked to rust susceptibility that have great potential to act as new sources of non-race-specific resistance. The aim of this project will be to functionally characterise these genes and their role during pathogen ingress. The student will work in partnership between the JIC and Limagrain UK Ltd to (i) evaluate the expression of a number of these genes during rust infection, (ii) determine their function through gene manipulation, (iii) assess their role during progression of rust disease, and (iv) assess their utility in plant breeding. 

This CASE studentship will provide a unique opportunity to join a multi-disciplinary research programme in the Saunders Lab at JIC and develop skills in plant pathology, cell biology, wheat genetics and basic computational biology. The student will also spend a minimum of 3 months at Limagrain UK Ltd and join a cohort of PhD students across the UK that are collectively working on research projects with leading UK wheat breeders to address the issue of breeding wheat for reduced on-farm inputs in ever changing environments.

The Norwich Research Park Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP) is open to UK and international candidates for entry October 2021 and offers postgraduates the opportunity to undertake a 4-year PhD research project whilst enhancing professional development and research skills through a comprehensive training programme. You will join a vibrant community of world-leading researchers. All NRPDTP CASE students undertake a three to 18-month placement with the non-academic partner during their study. The placement offers experience designed to enhance professional development. Students with, or expecting to attain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the NRPDTP. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on Tuesday 25th January, Wednesday 26th January and Thursday 27th January 2022.

Visit our website for further information on eligibility and how to apply:

Our partners value diverse and inclusive work environments that are positive and supportive. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Funding Notes

This project is awarded with a 4-year Norwich Research Park Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP) PhD CASE studentship. The studentship includes payment of tuition fees (directly to the University), a stipend for each year of the studentship (2021/22 stipend rate: £15,609), and a Research Training Support Grant for each year of the studentship of £5,000 p.a. plus a CASE Partner RTSG contribution of £1,400 p.a


Corredor-Moreno P., Minter F., Davey P.E., Wegel E., Kular B., Brett P., Lewis C.M., Morgan Y.M.L., Macías Pérez L.A., Korolev A.V., Hill L., Saunders D.G.O. (2021) The branched-chain amino acid aminotransferase TaBCAT1 modulates amino acid metabolism and positively regulates wheat rust susceptibility. The Plant Cell, 5: 1728-1747.
Lewis C.M., Persoons A., Bebber D.P., Kigathi R.N., Maintz J., Findlay K., et al. *Wulff B.B.H., *Saunders D.G.O. (2018) Potential for re-emergence of wheat stem rust in the United Kingdom. Communications Biology 1(1): 13. *Co-Corresponding.
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