Website University of Bath
Are changing environments driving hypervirulent fungal pathogen evolution?
Fungal pathogens are notoriously quick to adapt to environmental pressures. Now we are witnessing a rise in fungal disease outbreaks and the evolution of more aggressive pathogens (hypervirulence). These pathogens threaten plant, animal, human and ecosystem health, termed ‘One-Health’. But what is driving this change? Altering environmental pressures and climate change are believed to be accelerating pathogen evolution. But predicting when, why and how these adaptations occur is challenging. This knowledge gap hinders the development of durable practices which will protect the health of our ecosystems and society in an ever-changing environment.
Wheat represents a major component of our global ecosystem and is a primary provider of calories for animals and humans. Fusarium Head Blight is the most damaging floral disease of wheat worldwide and a serious health hazard due to contamination of the grain with mycotoxins that are harmful to plants, animals and humans alike. Existing disease control methods are increasingly ineffective, while pathogen populations with new mycotoxin chemotypes and enhanced aggressiveness have been reported. We urgently need to better understand how our altering environment drives evolutionary trade-offs in this problematic pathogen that threaten our One-Health.
Accordingly, this PhD will explore how the increasingly aggressive fungal pathogen Fusarium graminearum adapts to future environmental pressures, and how this contributes to hypervirulence evolution and the breakdown of disease control options. It will deploy evolutionary biology techniques, fungal genetics (CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing) and bioinformatics to understand the adaptations and the phenotypic trade-offs involved. This will inform the design of new approaches that could mitigate the impact this harmful fungal disease has on our ‘One-health’, both now and also in future climatic scenarios.
Project Partners: This PhD will be supported by an established multidisciplinary collaboration between the Universities of Bath and Exeter with Rothamsted Research. The evolutionary biology studies will be performed under the supervision of Drs Brown and Henk (Bath). Dr Brown will also supervise fungal genome-editing studies. Bioinformatic analyses will be supported by Dr Ames (Exeter). The student will spend 6 months with Prof Hammond-Kosack at Rothamsted Research, where they will assess pathogen virulence and mycotoxin production using their specialised world-class facilities.
Enquires and funding: Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to Dr Neil Brown (email@example.com). The NERC GW4+ DTP studentship is for 3.5 years. Funding covers tuition fees, a stipend (£15,609 p/a in 2021/22) and a generous allowance for research expenses and travel.
To apply for this job please visit www.findaphd.com.