University of Dundee

China Scholarship Council PhD programme - Understanding diversity and virulence of fungal pathogens on barley

The School of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee, joint with the China Scholarship Council (CSC), is proud to be able to offer a scholarship programme for postgraduate research students. The scholarship covers all tuition fees and research fees and provides living expenses and one return flight ticket to successful candidates. There are up to 5 scholarships of 4 years duration available.

Project Description

Pests and diseases are a major threat to food security with losses ranging between 20-40%. To meet the unprecedented demands of the growing world population, the FAO estimated that agricultural production needs to increase by 50% by 2050. In combination with crop breeding programmes to increase yield, strategies aimed at reducing crop loss due to plant diseases will contribute significantly to meeting this highly ambitious target. To develop novel and durable approaches to control plant pests and pathogens, and increase food production, it is essential we understand the underlying mechanisms of pathogen virulence.  

Cereals are major staple food crops, and yield loss due to fungal pathogens poses a major threat to food security. Barley, Hordeum vulgare, is the fourth most agriculturally important cereal with barley yields being used as feed for livestock, in malting and distilling processes, and food production. Moreover, barley is an excellent cereal model to study mechanisms of host resistance and pathogen infection strategies.  

This project will build on extensive barley genetics resources (germplasm and genomics) and expertise at the James Hutton Institute and University of Dundee to explore the diversity of important fungal pathogens and associate this diversity to virulence. It is well established that plant pathogenic microbes secrete molecules (effectors) inside their host during infection, which are essential for virulence. We will assess the diversity of effector repertoires using state-of-the-art sequencing approaches (eg enrichment sequencing) to gain insight into pathogen populations and effector families. In parallel, we will perform pathogenicity assays on our extensive germplasm collections to link diversity data to virulence. 

The student will be provided with training in molecular biology and genetics approaches to characterize fungal pathogen populations, including at the genome sequence level, as well as pathogen virulence assays.  

The student will be given the opportunity to, within the framework of the project, develop and apply their own ideas and give direction to their research. The position will be based on the groups Dr. J. Bos (j.bos@dundee.ac.uk), Dr I. Hein (ingo.hein@hutton.ac.uk), and Dr. J.Russell (joanne.russell@hutton.ac.uk) at the James Hutton Institute and University of Dundee.