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Reference CTP-SAI-065

AI-powered dynamic phenotyping of plant-parasitic nematodes

Reference CTP-SAI-065

AI-powered dynamic phenotyping of plant-parasitic nematodes

Dr Sebastian Eves-van den Akker (University of Cambridge),
Prof. Ji Zhou (NIAB),
Dr Philippa Harlow (Syngenta)
Dr Anthony Flemming (Syngenta).


Globally, plant parasitic nematodes pose a pervasive, intractable threat to crop production. In the field, the major routes to control are either genetics or chemistry - but increasingly both are used in conjunction in an integrated pest management approach.

A major challenge in the study of plant-parasitic nematodes, in fundamental and applied settings, is phenotyping the infection. This stems principally, although not exclusively, from their long-term below-ground interactions with plants.

In a recent breakthrough, Dr Eves-van den Akker and Prof. Ji Zhou have invented novel hardware and software for non-destructive, large-scale (10,000 plants/day), and dynamic (90 days, including 2 generations of the nematodes) phenotyping.  In collaboration with Syngenta there is scope to explore these novel phenotyping systems with relevance to crop protection chemistry.


The proposal has three main objectives

1. Determine whether dynamic phenotyping of parasitic nematodes, in planta, can be used to inform mode of action.

2. Build custom hardware and software to enable high-throughput compound screening in planta.

3. Conduct a pilot proof-of-principal chemical screen

Each objective is underpinned by substantial expertise of each partner, and so the successful applicant will be trained as required by leaders in their respective fields.


The student will be registered with, and based at, the University of Cambridge.


No prior experience is required. The successful candidate will receive hands-on training in all required techniques and approaches by experienced members of the group and have unlimited access to training courses provided by the University of Cambridge.

The CTP – SAI ( is a groundbreaking partnership between leading businesses, charities and research providers offering outstanding training for the agri-food sector. 

All CTP-SAI students will receive the Leadership and Management training provided by MDS ( and will create their Personal Development Plan (PDP) to identify their development needs and areas of strength. Each student will receive individual coaching and mentoring with regards to their career plans and skills development (in addition to the scientific project supervision).


Placements are a key feature of CTP and UKRI-BBSRC expects all doctoral candidates on a CTP programme to undertake a placement. Placements can be in the form of research placements (3-18 months duration) or used more flexibly for experiential learning of professional skills for business and/or entrepreneurship. All placements are developed in collaboration between the partners with input from the doctoral candidate.


Please feel free to contact Sebastian ( for an informal discussion on the research content of this PhD.

This studentship will begin in October 2024. The successful candidate should have (or expect to have) an Honours Degree (or equivalent) with a minimum of 2.1 in Plant Science, Applied Statistics, or other related science subjects. Students with an appropriate Masters degree are particularly encouraged to apply.

This studentship is for four years and is fully funded in line with UKRI-BBSRC standard rates. These will be for 2024/2025, an annual maintenance stipend of £19,237, fee support of £4,786, a research training support grant of £5,000 and conference and UK fieldwork expenses of £300.

Due to funder-mandated caps for the CTP as a whole, this project is only available to ‘Home’ applicants

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 requirements), or

  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an international student would not be eligible for this round of recruitment.

Anyone interested should complete the online application form before the deadline of 17th June 2024. Interviews will be held during June 2024.

Please contact for further application details.

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NIAB logo transparent background_edited.jpg
NIAB logo transparent background_edited.jpg
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