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  Understanding molecular mechanisms and simulating weed soil seed bank persistence and dynamics

   London Interdisciplinary Biosciences Consortium (LIDo)

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  Prof Gerhard Leubner, Dr K Nakabayashi, Dr Thomas Holloway, Dr G Le Goupil  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

To apply for this project please visit the LIDo website:

Weeds are a major threat to modern agriculture and global food security. About 10% of crop production is currently lost to weeds based on using herbicides in crop production (FAO). This harvest loss would be 30-70% without the use of herbicides. The effectiveness of herbicide technology is however threatened by the rapid advance of resistant weeds. The annual cost of weed herbicide resistance for blackgrass (Alopecurus myosuroides) in England alone is £0.4 billion in lost gross profit and an annual wheat yield loss of 0.8 million tonnes. Along with tightening herbicide regulations in Europe, it drives a need for more sustainable weed control strategies. Blackgrass is an annual weed solely propagated by seed and considered to be the most destructive weed in European agriculture. The proposed project is therefore focused on blackgrass seed longevity as affected by interaction with the soil seed bank and microbial activity. The student will contribute to advancing our understanding of the impact of heathier (more biodiverse) soils can have on weed management. This can provide evidence for growers to consider more sustainable management practises.

To address this challenge with an interdisciplinary approach, the supervisory team is from Royal Holloway University of London's Seed Science and Technology Group (Prof Gerhard Leubner and Dr Kazumi Nakabayashi) and Syngenta's Weed Control Research Biology team (Dr Thomas Holloway) at Syngenta's Jeallot's Hill International Research Centre (Bracknell, UK), as well as Syngenta's Weed Resistance Management and Sustainable Weed Control team in Switzerland (Gael Le Goupil). The proposed PhD project aims to understand the mechanisms underpinning the traits "longevity" (unknown dynamic molecular ageing and repair mechanisms) and "defence and decay by microbial activity" for blackgrass persistence in the soil seed bank and to use these to refine weed emergence models. The integrated research approach, from analysing gene expression to identify molecular marker (understanding underpinning mechanisms) to ecophysiological weed emergence modelling ("real-field" data), is supported by the distinct and complementary expertise of the supervisory team. This will provide superb training opportunities in interdisciplinary team work.

The 4-year industrial CASE (iCASE) PhD studentship is funded by LiDo (London Interdisciplinary Doctoral Programme) with substantial additional support from the industrial partner Syngenta. For training and support the student will be integrated into the Seed Science and Technology Group of Prof Gerhard Leubner (lead supervisor) and Dr Kazumi Nakabayashi (supervisor) at Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL). RHUL is located west of London close to Windsor and its beautiful campus is characterised by numerous teaching and study spaces, bars and cafés, high-quality accommodation, and sports facilities, embedded in stunning parkland. The Founder’s Building is one of the world’s most spectacular historic university buildings from the Victorian era. RHUL's Seed Science and Technology Group has >10 postdocs, PhD and technician researchers who will provide further expert support in multidisciplinary methods such as biomechanical engineering, 3D imaging, transcriptome (RNAseq), RT-qPCT, microscopy and biochemistry. Interdisciplinary teamwork in a research environment representing a critical mass is providing the research excellence and superb training opportunities. Regular meetings with the RHUL and Syngenta supervisors will support the project development.

CASE industrial placement: The student will spend at least 3 months at Syngenta, supervised by Dr Thomas Holloway and Gael Le Goupil. They will receive an induction to the company which will give them a feel for how a commercial company operates. During the placement, the student will discuss the experimental design, data analysis, receive training in various fields including by Syngenta's expert weed emergence modellers. The student would contribute to a ‘novel’ area of research – biotic interactions in the seedbank are not very well studied, particularly for agroecosystems, and this may contribute to weed management strategies from a practical point of view. RHUL and Syngenta's Jeallot's Hill International Research Centre are essentially collocated (30 min drive) which further facilitates interaction and active collaboration. Sygnenta is a global leader in agricultural technology with a crop protection portfolio that covers more than 100 different brand names that are sold to farmers around the world. The Jealott's Hill International Research Centre (JHIRC) is Syngenta's largest R&D site globally. There are about 1000 employees on site, engaged in various scientific disciplines across crop protection including weed control research.

BBSRC Priority Area: Novel innovative and environmental-friendly ways to control weeds are essential for sustainable food production. Bioscience for Sustainable Agriculture and Food, Plant and Crop Science, Systems Biology, and Collaboration with the UK's Industry focusing on a topic of industrial relevance (BBSRC iCASE remit; Government Innovation Strategy 2021).

To apply for this project please visit the LIDo website:

Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

Fully funded place including home (UK) tuition fees and a tax-free stipend in the region of £17,609.
LIDo has a maximum of 11 fully funded opportunities for students eligible for overseas fees.


The Seed Biology Place -
Chandler JO, Haas FB, Khan S, Bowden L, Ignatz M, Enfissi EMA, Gawthrop F, Griffiths A, Fraser PD, Rensing SA, et al. 2020. Rocket Science: The Effect of Spaceflight on Germination Physiology, Ageing, and Transcriptome of Eruca sativa Seeds. Life-Basel 10(4).
Finch-Savage WE, Leubner-Metzger G. 2006. Seed dormancy and the control of germination. New Phytologist 171: 501-523.
Holloway T, Steinbrecher T, Perez M, Seville A, Stock D, Nakabayashi K, Leubner-Metzger G. 2021. Coleorhiza-enforced seed dormancy: a novel mechanism to control germination in grasses. New Phytologist 229(4): 2179-2191.
Long RL, Gorecki MJ, Renton M, Scott JK, Colville L, Goggin DE, Commander LE, Westcott DA, Cherry H, Finch-Savage WE. 2015. The ecophysiology of seed persistence: a mechanistic view of the journey to germination or demise. Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 90(1): 31-59.
Mohammed S, Turckova V, Tarkowska D, Strnad M, Mummenhoff K, Leubner-Metzger G. 2019. Pericarp-mediated chemical dormancy controls the fruit germination of the invasive hoary cress (Lepidium draba), but not of hairy whitetop (Lepidium appelianum). Weed Science 67(5): 560-571.
Nakabayashi K, Leubner-Metzger G. 2021. Seed dormancy and weed emergence: from simulating environmental change to understanding trait plasticity, adaptive evolution, and population fitness. Journal of Experimental Botany 72(12): 4181-4185.
Nee G, Obeng-Hinneh E, Sarvari P, Nakabayashi K, Soppe WJJ. 2015. Secondary dormancy in Brassica napus is correlated with enhanced BnaDOG1 transcript levels. Seed Science Research 25(2): 221-229.
Varah A, Ahodo K, Coutts SR, Hicks HL, Comont D, Crook L, Hull R, Neve P, Childs DZ, Freckleton RP, et al. 2020. The costs of human-induced evolution in an agricultural system. Nat Sustain 3(1): 63-71.
Westwood JH, Charudattan R, Duke SO, Fennimore SA, Marrone P, Slaughter DC, Swanton C, Zollinger R. 2018. Weed management in 2050: Perspectives on the future of weed science. Weed Science 66(3): 275-285.
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