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  Understanding the soil microbiome under controlled light conditions

   Faculty of Engineering and Science

  ,  Monday, June 24, 2024  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Our research group is working within a consortium that is testing semi-transparent solar installations on crop growth-houses, to enhance biological and financial resilience in protected farming. We are evaluating electricity supply, the effect of partial shade on crops, and use of resources, such as water-use efficiency. As well as commercial aims, there is scientific interest in how manipulating the light quantity and quality can alter or enhance crop characteristics. Typically, LED-lighting is tailored by the farmer, but coloured, semi-transparent, photovoltaic materials can also be used to shade crops in all or part of the light spectrum. This project will provide new cell biology and commercial understanding of crop effects, and explore how altered light regimes affect pathogens, rhizosphere communities and plant root biology. The ideal candidate would have experience in microbiology, plant biology or molecular biology. You should be enthusiastic about supporting NetZero farming and have an interest in the fundamental science that underpins agriculture. Experience in analysing microbiomes and bioinformatic data would be helpful but training will be provided in all required areas. 

Project design: 

 i. Microbiome and mycorrhizae in altered light conditions 

Rhizosphere microbe number and diversity will be surveyed to inform experiments on plant-microbe communication (ii) and protective organisms (iii) 

ii. Host-plant root signals under altered light conditions 

Plant metabolites and their specific transport will be studied in rhizosphere and root cells to understand effects of light quantity/quality on microbial behaviour and crop 

iii. Disease characteristics under altered light 

Identification and pathogenicity testing of representative soil-borne pathogens will be linked with soil microbial health (i)

Support and training:

The doctoral student will be supported by a team with expertise in plant biology, soil health, next generation sequencing and statistics and they will work within an active laboratory group of scientists at all career stages. The student will join the large community of postgraduate students across the School and Faculty. Training and courses will be provided and project components tailored to meet the interests and experience of the applicant. There will be opportunities for networking with farm businesses and dissemination of findings at conferences. 

Please see the link below for application details:

Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

Bursary available (subject to satisfactory performance):
Year 1: £18,622 (FT) or pro-rata (PT) Year 2: In line with UKRI rate Year 3: In line with UKRI rate
The successful candidate will also receive a contribution to tuition fees equivalent to the university’s Home rate, currently £4712 (FT; or pro-rata PT), for the duration of their scholarship. International applicants must pay the remainder tuition fee for the duration of their scholarship. This fee is subject to an annual increase.


1. Thompson EP, Bombelli EL, Shubham S, et al. 2020. Tinted semi-transparent solar panels allow concurrent production of crops and electricity on the same cropland. Advanced Energy Materials 10: 2001189
2. Carrión, O., Gibson, L., Elias, D.M.O., McNamara, N.P., van Alen, T.A., Op den Camp, HJM, Supramaniam, C.V., McGenity, T.J., Murrell, J.C. 2020. Diversity of isoprene-degrading bacteria in phyllosphere and soil communities from a high isoprene-emitting environment: A Malaysian oil palm plantation. Microbiome, 2020, 8(1), 81

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