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Miss Sarah Mitchell

Postgraduate Student
Miss Sarah Mitchell
Department of Plant Sciences
University of Cambridge
Downing Street

Cambridge CB2 3EA
Office Phone: 01223 748957

Research Interests

Significant variability in the effectiveness of biocontrol agents across field experiments means that they are often not seen as viable control methods. My PhD uses modelling to further understand the interactions between soil-borne pathogens and biocontrol agents, and to suggest how to make the use of biocontrol agents as successful as possible.

There is a trade-off between constructing a very complicated model that includes all the biological activity of real-life plant-pathogen-biocontrol agent interactions, and a simpler model that can more easily be analysed. I am trying to find the right balance between these two, creating a model that is not too difficult to interpret but that still includes all the relevant ways that a biocontrol agent and pathogen can interact in the soil.

Although my model can be used for any soil-borne pathogen and host plant, my main focus is on one case study – take-all disease in winter wheat. Take-all disease is caused by the soil-borne fungus Gaeumannomyces graminis var tritici and can lead to blackening and rotting of wheat roots, disrupting nutrient-intake and the flow of water through the crop. This can lead to shrivelling of the grain and sometimes premature death. There are no successful control strategies for take-all, but several biocontrol agents have been shown to reduce the severity of the disease under certain conditions. However, their variability in field trials has meant that they are not currently seen as a viable control strategy. My model will hopefully identify some of the reasons for this variability and use this information to optimise future biocontrol application and increase the chance of successfully using biocontrol agents to control soil-borne plant diseases.

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