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BBSRC Doctoral Training Programme

Projects available at NIAB

  • Domestication of the African vine Cryptolepis sanguinolenta for cultivation by smallholder African farmers
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Further information on the DTP programme

Details on how to apply

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
P 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.

Roweena Downie

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
BBSRC DTP, University of Cambridge
Capturing Photosynthetic Traits from Ancestral Wheat Species.

Tally Wright

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

BBSRC DTP, University of Cambridge
Silent wars: Characterising the interaction between wheat and Fusarium Head Blight
Affiliations: Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge; Cambridge Commonwealth, European and International Trust

Franziska FischerResearch 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.

Take part in the NIAB Fusarium Survey

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

Tobias Barber

iCASE BBSRC DTP Cambridge University and RAGT Seeds Ltd
Testing new genomic methods to accelerate genetic gain for UK wheat improvement

Toby Barber, NIAB

Toby’s project is an Industrial CASE partnership with RAGT Seeds Ltd. to optimise the application of quantitative methods including genomic selection (GS) in wheat breeding.

Toby is working on a series of nested mapping populations and derivatives from the NIAB Elite MAGIC population. He is assessing a number of agronomically significant target traits in key European wheat environments, with a focus on yield components and nitrogen-use-efficiency. This is coupled with molecular and genetic analysis using next-generation sequencing. Toby will also develop and validate algorithms for GS to test extension of trait prediction into larger, more complex experimental populations of relevance to UK wheat to create a platform for scaling this project‘s impact for the future of wheat improvement.

Toby started his PhD project at NIAB in January 2017 after completing a 10 week rotation project at the Sainsbury Laboratory in the Ottoline Leyser group looking at the effect of differing nitrate concentrations on root plasticity in Brachypodium Distachyon. Toby graduated from the University of Plymouth with a degree in Geography and after travelling for an extended period he found work at NIAB. Toby has worked in the trials and farm team, working with a variety of arable and vegetable crops, in the ornamentals department, with new varieties for DUS testing and for several years in the research department, running and planning field trials and collecting high-quality phenotypic data.

Emily Marr

BBSRC DTP, University of Cambridge
Dissecting the genetic control of root system architecture in crops

Emily MarrEmily is investigating the genetic regulation of root system architecture (RSA) in bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), oat (Avena sativa L.) and chemically mutagenized Targeting Induced Local Lesions In Genomes (TILLING) populations of cvs. Kronos and Cadenza.

The projected increase in drought incidence requires the development of crops that are capable of withstanding extreme weather events. Furthermore, the current inefficiency of nutrient use represents environmental and economic losses. Although root system architecture, the spatial configuration of roots in the soil, is fundamental for nutrient and water uptake, it has often been overlooked in crop breeding due to the challenge of phenotyping organs below ground. However, RSA has a direct impact on grain yield and improved root systems can ensure that a higher proportion of applied fertiliser is taken up by the crop.

Emily is undertaking forward genetic screening to fine-map loci controlling RSA in wheat, barley and oat mapping populations. She aims to identify and characterise major-effect genes located within the mapped loci. She is also undertaking reverse genetic screening to characterise putative wheat RSA genes in TILLING populations containing artificially induced mutations. As part of a collaboration between NIAB and the Institute of Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge, Emily is involved in a laser ablation tomography project to study wheat root cortical aerenchyma.

Emily started her four-year PhD in October 2016 as part of the BBSRC DTP programme. She gained a BA (Hons) Cantab. in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge with a specialisation in Plant Sciences. She has previously completed projects at the Jodrell Laboratory in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University (SLCU), and in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge.

Eleni Tente

BBSRC DTP, University of Cambridge
Project title: “How does Claviceps purpurea interact with the Gibberellic acid pathways in developing wheat ovules, and what are the implications for resistance and yield” 

EleniEleni is investigating host-pathogen interactions between wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and Claviceps purpurea.

Claviceps purpurea is a biotrophic fungal pathogen of a range of cereals and grasses, being the causative agent of ergot disease. While little is known about the molecular interactions that take place during infection, the Gibberellic acid (GA) hormone was recently found to play a role in the successful infection of wheat by the C. purpurea (Gordon et al., 2015). Understanding the role of plant hormones in influencing and facilitating the fungus’s development, and the C. purpurea genes responsible for infection has the potential to significantly expand our knowledge of the mechanisms governing this host-fungus relationship.

Eleni started her four year project in October 2016. She studied for her MSc in Plant Genetic Manipulation at the University of Nottingham, UK. After graduating she worked for a year at the University of California, San Diego, under the supervision of Dr. Jose Pruneda-Paz, where she examined the transcriptional networks that operate during the circadian regulation of plant pathogen-induced defence responses.

Tom Reynolds

BBSRC iCASE, University of Cambridge and Senova Ltd
Chocolate spot: Pathogenicity dynamics, population diversity and host resistance to Botrytis fabae

Tom ReynoldsTom is researching the interaction between the pathogen Botrytis fabae and its host Vicia faba in the UK. He is looking for quantitative trait loci (QTLs) defining resistance loci in V. faba, and examining the geographic and temporal distribution of B. fabae genetic variation.

Chocolate spot, caused by the fungus Botrytis fabae, can cause crop loss during wet seasons. However, little resistance to B. fabae exists within commercial V. faba lines. Delimiting new resistance QTLs will allow selection of more resistant V. faba varieties, reducing the necessity for fungicides and improving productivity of this valuable legume crop. Exploring the genetic diversity of this fungus will advise on which isolates are most virulent in the UK, and the rate of change of this pathogen in the UK.

Tom started his four year project in October 2016. He studied for his Bachelor’s degree at Durham University, reading Biological Sciences. Tom also holds a Master of Science in Plant Genetics and Crop Improvement from the University of East Anglia. He completed his masters research project in the lab of Cyril Zipfel at The Sainsbury Laboratory Norwich, under the supervision of Jacqueline Monaghan. There he worked on mapping a gene implicated in basal immunity in Arabidopsis thaliana. Between degrees Tom worked on hardware programming and prototype development with Sarum Hydraulics, Wiltshire.

Supervisor: Tom Wood