Plant pathology and fungicide resistance


4 Years


Monday, December 6, 2021 - 23:00


Biointeractions and Crop Protection


University of Exeter


Wheat is one of the most important staple crops globally, the largest crop-based protein source, and its consumption is increasing globally. Given its economic and social importance, wheat losses by pests and pathogens are of considerable concern. Take-all disease is the most important disease of wheat roots globally. This disease is caused by a soil-borne fungus that infects roots and damages the vasculature tissue of the plants resulting in reduced yield and grain quality. In addition, the disease has an important environmental impact by reducing the uptake of fertilizers by wheat plants, which can lead to higher greenhouse emissions and water eutrophication. Despite the importance of this disease, there are currently no effective control methods available except crop rotations. Compared to other aboveground fungal diseases, the molecular interactions between roots and fungal pathogens are still poorly understood. Dissecting these “hidden” interactions will allow the development of new sustainable strategies to disease control. 

This PhD project will use functional genomics approaches to dissect the molecular mechanisms of virulence in the take-all fungus. This knowledge will allow us to move a step forward in developing better strategies to protect wheat roots from take-all disease and in general to protect crops from root infecting fungi. The project will use the natural variation between strains and closely related species differing in virulence, and newly acquired genomic and transcriptomic data, to identify candidate genes associated with fungal virulence. The new candidate genes will be functionally validated by using CRISPR/CAS9 to generate deletion mutants. The mutants will be phenotyped by using a combination of plant pathology and microscopy approaches to confirm the function of the candidate genes and their role in fungal virulence and root colonization. Through working with a combination of research expertise at Rothamsted Research and Exeter University, training in advanced Bioinformatics, Genomics, Transcriptomics, Molecular Plant Pathology and Microscopy techniques will be provided.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Statement

We want to support diverse and inclusive work environments. We therefore welcome applications from individuals regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, gender, or disability status. We welcome applications from individuals who have previously studied at any recognised Higher Education Institute and from a range of career paths (please refer to the SWBio DTP academic criteria for eligibility), including individuals who have previously trained in the sciences and are wanting to return to scientific research.

We particularly encourage applications from BAME* and mature (this is classed as 30+ years) individuals as these backgrounds are currently underrepresented within our student cohort.


UKRI have recently updated their policy for funded studentships which starts from the 2021/2022 academic year.

IMPORTANT: Please refer to the UKRI Full Eligibility Criteria alongside the information provided below.

Home students

Fully-funded studentships are available for Home students.  To be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

• Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or

• Have settled status, or

• Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirement) or,

• Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

International students

If you do not meet the above criteria, you will be classed as an International student.

A limited number (up to 30%) of UKRI fully-funded studentships are available through the SWBio DTP, that applicants who would be classed as an International student are eligible for.  Please apply through the application route below for funding.


Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.  Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Masters degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

In addition, due to the strong mathematical component of the taught course in the first year and the quantitative emphasis in our projects, a minimum of a grade B in A-level Maths or an equivalent qualification or experience is required.


Physics A-level (grade B and above)

Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant mathematical component*

*Significant mathematical component examples include; maths, statistics, bioinformatics.

Applicants must ensure they highlight their Maths background within their application and to upload any supporting evidence.


If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.5 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable, please see

UKRI-BBSRC funded studentship


A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover:


a stipend* (at the standard UKRI rate; £15,609 per annum for 2021-2022)


research and training costs


tuition fees


additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month placement


* An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£24,090 per annum for 2021-2022). There may also be enhanced stipends associated with projects that have a CASE partner (CASE projects are highlighted as *CASE in the project lists).

For further details or to apply for this project, please visit the University of Exeter web pages here.