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Small Plant

Ongoing Projects

First cohort of CTP-SAI PhD students started their PhD projects in October 2022.

Beelow is a short description of each project.

Realising the environmental benefits of faba beans (Vicia faba L.) via optimised nutrition and nitrogen fixation.

This project will optimise fertiliser rates and timings for crop growth and root rhizobial colonisation. 

The objectives of this work are to: 

  • Establish optimum levels of nutrients (P, K, S & Mo) at key growth stages.

  • Establish optimum levels of nutrients to support colonisation of faba bean roots by populations of the bean symbiont Rhizobium leguminosarum sv. viciae derived from defined soils.

  • Optimise the contribution of BNF to total N accumulation over the duration of crop growth under varied soil and nutrient environments.

  • Recommend improved nutrient recommendations and demonstrate the effect on faba bean yield and residual N available for following crops. 


Integrated control of Fusarium wilt of lettuce in relation to pathogen and microbial community dynamics.

The main aim of this PhD is to develop sustainable integrated disease management approaches for both FOL1 and FOL4 in lettuce with a focus on field production in Spain.

The objectives of this work are to:

  • Establish race identity and potential genetic variation in FOL isolates from Spanish lettuce .

  • Evaluate solarisation, biological control and the use of disease resistant / tolerant lettuce varieties as potential components of an integrated control strategy.

  • Develop and implement different next generation sequencing approaches for microbial community analyses with a focus on monitoring the dynamics of FOL and beneficial microbes.

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Using virus-induced gene editing in potato to genetically dissect plant-microbe interactions.

Virus-induced gene editing has been established in Nicotiana and tomato. This project will use these existing platforms to develop virus-induced gene editing in potato. 

The objectives of this work are to:

  • Explore different viral vectors for their effectiveness in delivering guide RNAs into the germline cells.

  • Use virus-induced gene editing to dissect the genetic determinants of plant-microbe interactions in potato.

  • Develop mutants that impact interactions with both beneficial and detrimental microorganisms.


Supporting future wheat improvement underpinned by novel genetic diversity for root traits

The aim of this PhD is to develop knowledge related to root system architectures that could be directly selected for, and their effect on efficient crop performance, nutrient uptake and interaction with agricultural environment.

The objectives of this work are to:

  • Detailed phenotypic evaluation, including 2D root imaging, CT imaging of roots in soil and field based evaluation

  • Explore how the underlying mutations perturb the gene expression networks involved in root development via RNAseq analysis of mutant and wild-type root tissue.

  • Develop markers for candidate genes  and validate in diverse wheat donors and a subset of pre-breeding material developed by NIAB.

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Exploration of NIAB’s synthetic wheats as a new source of disease resistance for effective genetic control of Septoria tritici blotch disease

The main aim of this project is to identify whether these synthetic wheats contain new, previously unexplored genes that could be utilised for improvement of wheat resistance to STB.

The objectives of this work are to:

  • Assess STB resistance in the primary synthetics using fungal inoculations under glasshouse conditions.

  • Screen a subset of the most promising mapping population lines during two seasons under field conditions.

  • Genetically map loci underlying STB resistance.

  • Establish  whether the identified loci (genes) provide adequate level or STB resistance to both young and adult plants or whether the resistance is growth stage specific, and whether the disease control is achieved prior to or after the fungal penetration through stomata.

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Optimisation of partial biofumigation for the management of potato cyst nematodes.

Potato cyst nematodes are regarded as the most important pests of UK potato crops. Diminishing chemical control options, such as the recent loss of Vydate (oxamyl), and the lack of commercially resistant varieties for the species Globodera pallida, hasten the need for alternative crop protection strategies.

The objectives of this work are to:

  • Develop methodology for identifying and assessing the activity of myrosinase. producing microorganisms (MPMs) in soil

  • Evaluate soil amendments for elevating densities of MPMs within microbial communities (priming partial biofumigation). 

  • Conduct glasshouse experiments to compare partial biofumigation from different brassica species.

  • Develop methods for upregulating GSL release from root exudates. 

  • Explore techniques for optimising root development for increased GSL release.

  • Evaluate the performance of the optimised partial biofumigation system on PCN suppression under field conditions.


Disrupting the “master regulators” of cyst nematode parasitism.

Like all other plant-interacting organisms, nematodes deliver hundreds of effectors into the host plant to cause disease. This project aims to block the action of large subsets of effectors by blocking the “master regulators” at their source.

The objectives of this work are to:

  • Determine the nature, identity, and dispensability of plant-signals that activate each regulator using a combination of HPLC-MS, CRISPR-Cas, and bioassays. 

  • Determine how these signals are recognised in the parasite using competition assays, RNA interference, and genetics.

  • Determine how these master regulators carry out their function using yeast 1 hybrid and chemical genetic approaches.


The application of satellite remote sensing and machine learning for modelling impacts of regenerative farming practices

The aim of the PhD is to develop, validate and deploy satellite enabled data solutions; model evolutions and novel algorithms for key soil health and carbon metrics at field, farm and regional scale. Several approaches will be considered, assessed and validated to support quantitative tracking of the impact of regenerative agricultural practices across crop rotations.

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