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WR DTP project: Developing phage therapy for controlling plant pathogenic bacteria

Department of Biology

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Dr V Friman , Dr A Harper , Dr Joana Vicente No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
York United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Bioinformatics Ecology Evolution Genetics Microbiology Pathology Plant Biology Virology

About the Project


Plant pathogenic bacteria cause considerable economic losses to food production systems due to lack of effective control methods. This project will develop a novel biocontrol method against plant pathogenic Ralstonia solanacearum bacterium (causative agent of bacterial wilt) by using phages – viral parasites specific to this pathogen.

This project builds upon previous work where the efficacy of phages was demonstrated in lab and greenhouse conditions (Wang et al. 2019 Nature Biotechnology). Interestingly, the effectiveness was not only based on pathogen density reduction by phages but also to evolutionary trade-off between phage resistance and virulence. The key aim of this project is to mechanistically understand how phage resistance turns pathogens less virulent.


We will focus on two components of pathogen fitness that are important for its virulence and known to be affected by phage resistance evolution: i) invasion and competition in soil microbiomes and ii) infection and immune evasion within plant hosts. Specifically, we are interested in understanding how evolutionary changes in pleiotropic phage resistance genes affect:

1. Pathogen metabolic versatility and competitiveness, which are crucial traits in determining pathogen establishment in soil microbiomes.

2. Pathogen ability to compete for space and colonize roots, which is essential for getting access inside the plant.

3. Pathogen ability to evade pattern-triggered or effector-triggered plant immunity within the plant, leading to the death of host.

The interdisciplinary project will provide a wide range of skills in experimental evolution, comparative genomics, transcriptomics, microscopy, microbiology and plant biology, and will take advantage of well- established pathogen-tomato plant system in Friman ( and Harper ( labs. Also, project is co-supervised by industry partner from Fera Science Ltd ( The research is important for ensuring future food security and provides opportunities to work with international collaborators in France (iMEAN) and China (Nanjing Agricultural University).

The White Rose DTP in Mechanistic Biology is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the BBSRC WR DTP in Mechanistic Biology. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 4 years. The funding includes:
Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£15,285 for 2020/21)
UK tuition fees (£4,473 for 2021/22)
Research support and training charges (RSTC)
We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions. If English is not your first language, you will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for your country. Please check our website:

START DATE: 1st October 2021
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