PhD Studentship in Biological Sciences Understanding the impact of phylloplane biocontrol agents on insects

Supervisors:  Dr Robert W. Jackson, Dr Mark Fellowes, Dr Alice Mauchline and Dr Louise Johnson, and industry partners Mr Martin Emmett and Dr Neal Ward

Overview: Aphids are a major pest of both agricultural and horticultural crops, causing physical damage and transmitting plant viruses. However, recent changes to pesticide regulations have reduced the availability of pesticides and current reliance on sub-optimal control using parasitoids/predators means there is a need to innovate alternative approaches to aphid control. We have identified several highly effective aphid-killing bacteria. We now have a timely opportunity to capitalise on this discovery to manipulate the bacteria and prove they are safe for use as biocontrol agents. We wish to determine whether we can evolve improved aphid-killing ability in the bacteria to enhance the aphidicidal properties – this is a natural, non-GM approach, thus making the subsequent new biocontrol bacteria more suitable for use and complementary to an Integrated Pest Management strategy.

Another key aim of this project will be to examine the effects of aphid biocontrol bacteria on insect ecology and behaviour. This will include studying the effects on natural enemies and non-target insects following exposure to aphids treated with lethal and sub-lethal doses of bacteria. We will also examine the likelihood of resistance occurring in the target pest. Taken together, we believe that these experiments, coupled with ongoing research, will set the foundation for future commercialisation of the biocontrol bacteria and provide growers with a new resource for controlling aphid pests.

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The student experience: The student will join a research group working on different aspects of microbiology and aphid biology and will be supported by an experienced supervisory team. The nature of the project ensures the student will have an interdisciplinary training (i.e. microbiology, entomology, botany, molecular biology) and the opportunity to meet a broad range of researchers via research seminars and at postgraduate symposia held at the University.

Working with industry and impact:  An important aspect of this project is for the student to engage with industry stakeholders through attendance of the Horticultural Development Company meetings and meetings with industry partners. This industrial collaboration will provide the student with an appreciation of the horticultural industry’s needs and standards which will inform the research approach. Therefore, it is important that the candidate has excellent communication skills. The student will also look to maximise their research impact through talks and presentations at meetings, workshops and conferences; publication of research summaries in industry publications such HDC Newsletters; publications in research journals; public engagement and outreach activities such as public talks.

Eligibility:  Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a relevant subject.

Funding Details:  Studentship will cover Home/EU Fees and pay the Research Council minimum stipend (£13,726 for 2013/14) for up to 3 years. The studentship will begin in October 2014

How to apply:  To apply for this studentship please submit an application for a PhD in Microbe-Insect Interactions to the University – see the apply button below.

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When prompted as part of your online application, you should provide details of the funding you are applying for, quoting the reference GS14-12.

Application Deadline:   Friday December 20th 2013

Further Enquiries:  Please contact Dr Robert Jackson (

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