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The contribution of horizontal gene transfer to the evolution of plant-parasitism by nematodes

Supervisor: Sebastian Eves-van den Akker

With at least one species able to parasitise every major food crop of the world, plant-parasitic nematodes are a consistent threat to global food security and cost world agriculture over $100 billion per year. In our group we are trying to understand how these root parasites have evolved/are evolving.

In a classical view of evolution, genes are passed vertically from one generation to the next. In plant-parasitic nematodes, horizontal gene transfer events (primarily from bacteria and fungi), have also contributed to the germ line, the protein-coding gene complement, and ultimately the evolution of plant-parasitism.

The central theme of your PhD will be to work out the roles of genes that were acquired via horizontal gene transfer. We have recently sequenced the genomes of a number of plant-parasitic nematodes and have used these resources to conduct genome wide analyses of horizontal gene transfer events (typically accounting ~3% of all genes), providing a broad platform for you to build upon.

These large-scale analyses also give us a glimpse into the putative functions of genes acquired via horizontal gene transfer - ranging from the probably 'describable' (vitamin biosynthesis, plant cell wall degradation, sugar metabolism) to the largely 'unknowns'. Initially focusing on the more tangible horizontal gene transfer events of particular interest to you and/or the group, those feeling ambitious could also try to tackle the unknowns in the later stages of the PhD. This project will involve collaboration with colleagues in Cambridge, drawing on other expertise in the Departments of Plant Sciences (vitamin biosynthesis) and Biochemistry (plant cell wall degradation).

This project is available for the Standard BBSRC DTP Studentship starting in 2019. Feel free to get in contact if you are interested. To submit an application, you initially apply for a theme and prior to starting the programme you will select your rotation and PhD project.

The closing date for all BBSRC funded studentships is noon on Friday 7th December 2018.