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BBSRC Doctoral Training Programme

Projects available at NIAB

Unlocking the potential of interspecific introgressions for wheat improvement

Developing pangenomic bioinformatics approaches for cereal crops

Gene annotation for crop pangenomes

How do fungal pathogens use a crop plant’s hormonal pathways to their own advantage?

Discovery of virulence patterns in Botrytis fabae

Genetic markers for wheat domestication traits

Large grain size in novel wheat breeding lines

MAGIC wheat quality: utilising next-generation biological and genomics platforms for quality improvement

Accelerating the application of genomics in wheat breeding

If you would like more information about the projects or studying for a PhD at NIAB, please contact the project supervisor(s).

PhD students

Rowena Downie
Roweena DownieP Targeted Studentship, Cambridge University
Deploying effector and genomic approaches for the genetic dissection of pathogen-host interactions between
two necrotic pathogens (Pyrenophora tritici-repentis and Parastagonorum nodorum) and the UK’s most important crop, wheat.

Rowena is investigating pathogen-host interactions between Parastagonospora nodorum, Pyrenophora tritici-repentis and wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), using the recently developed Multiparent Advanced Generation InterCross (MAGIC) population (8-parent, 1,000 progeny).

P. nodorum and P. tritici-repentis are necrotrophic fungi and are important pathogens of one of the world’s most economically important cereal crops, wheat. Both pathogens secrete necrotrophic protein effectors that mediate host cell death, providing nutrients for continued infection. Pathogen effectors are a recent discovery that has revolutionised disease resistance breeding for necrotrophic disease in crop species, allowing often more complex genetic resistance mechanisms to be broken down into constituent parts. To date, three necrotrophic effectors have been identified and cloned from P. nodorum and P. tritici-repentis: ToxA, Tox1 and Tox3.

Rowena started her four year project in October 2015. She studied for her MSci in Biology at the University of Bristol, completing her thesis at the cereal genomics laboratory with Prof. K Edwards as supervisor. Here, Rowena carried out QTL analysis of an F5 Triticum aestivum Apogee x Paragon population, investigating plant and ear structure along with grain traits.

Supervisors: Dr James Cockram; Prof. Richard Oliver
Advisors: Dr Kar-Chun Tan; Dr Huyen Phan

Tally Wright
Tally WrightBBSRC DTP, Cambridge University
Capturing Photosynthetic Traits from Ancestral Wheat Species.

Tally is researching photosynthetic variation in wild ancestral relatives of bread wheat. Furthermore, he will be mapping genes controlling desirable photosynthetic efficiency and capacity traits in novel tetraploid material. Tally’s overall goal is to identify genes controlling beneficial photosynthetic traits in wild ancestors that could be introgressed into modern varieties.

The human population is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, therefore the emphasis on global food security has reached critical importance. Raising photosynthetic capacity in wheat is a major bottleneck in increasing yield to feed a hungry world. Wild ancestors of bread wheat may still offer an untapped genetic reserve which could be the key to breaking this bottleneck.

Tally is part of the Cambridge University DTP program and started his three year PhD project in June 2015. He will partly spend his time at NIAB and the Department of Plant Sciences. Tally studied for his BSc in Marine Biology at the University of Portsmouth. After graduating, he started working at NIAB as a research assistant in the Pre-Breeding department. After being assigned onto the BBSRC DTP Programme, Tally completed his MRes at the University of Cambridge with projects that involved research at NIAB and the Department of Plant Sciences. On top of the project that Tally took forwards as his PhD, he completed a 10 week rotation with Dr Phil Howell investigating cadmium accumulation in tetraploid wheat. Since starting his PhD project Tally has completed a three month Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIPS) at KWS UK Ltd working on commercial research wheat projects.

Supervisors: Dr Fiona Leigh and Professor Howard Griffiths.

Franziska Fischer
Franziska FischerSilent wars: Characterising the interaction between wheat and Fusarium Head Blight

Cambridge BBSRC DTP Programme
Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
Cambridge Commonwealth, European and International Trust

Research Interests

Fusarium head blight (FHB) is a disease caused by a group of fungi in cereals which affects all major cereal growing regions worldwide. It not only causes substantial yield loss, but also jeopardises animal and human health, because the fungi involved produce toxins.

In the UK, the disease can have substantial impact on local farms during epidemic years, while losses on a global scale run into millions of pounds annually. Since agronomic counter measures are still only partially effective, resistance towards FHB in crops is all the more valuable. However, to date we do not know of a fully resistant variety.

Franziska’s research project is investigating potential resistance mechanisms in modern UK wheat varieties using NIAB’s eight-parent MAGIC population. Furthermore, in terms of knowing your foe, she is adopting a set of new methods in molecular biology to provide a better picture of Fusarium populations in the UK and beyond.

Franziska completed research projects with Disease Resistance and Diagnostics at NIAB and with Ottoline Leyser’s Group at the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge, before returning to NIAB for her PhD research in October 2014. She is originally from Germany and holds an MSc in Crop Improvement (University of Nottingham), as well as an M.Sc. with a major in Agribusiness and Agricultural Economics (Technische Universität München TUM). Franziska has pursued her interest in both these areas during placements with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and KWS UK Ltd. Her interest in plant-pathogen interaction was sparked by an MSc project on Ganoderma in oil palm, conducted in Semenyih, Malaysia.

Supervisor: Dr Alison Bentley