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Department of Plant Sciences

Nematode under microscope it has a golden body


Supervisor: Dr Sebastian Eves-van den Akker
Co-supervisor: Dr Nik Cunniffe


Brief Summary

How will plant-parasitic nematodes adapt to a warmer UK - tuck in for winter or go for broke?


Importance of the Research

Given that nematodes are the (numerically) dominant animals on the planet, and important parts of many ecosystems, a strong case can be made to explore any area of their biology. In the UK, the plant-parasitic Potato Cyst Nematodes (PCN) are widespread, and damaging to potato.

PCN adapted to the lifespan of their host and the climate to achieve one generation/year in the EU (obligate diapause between cycles). An introduction of European PCN in Africa, where potatoes can be grown year-round, has selected for PCN that lost diapause.

Under the changing climate in the UK, we already have evidence of two hatches of PCN within a growing season, and more recent reports of two full life cycles per growing season. The selection pressures we hypothesise resulted in African PCN losing diapause and multiplying rapidly may be prophetic of what is to come in the UK, even with only one cycle of the crop per year. While the genetic basis of this adaptation is unclear, it may already be present in the UK: a fraction of any PCN population will hatch without diapause.

We need to understand the genetics, biology, and prevalence of this phenomenon to model the likely impact under climate change scenarios.


Project Summary

Building on these recent findings, the project aims to address several questions on the genetics, biology, and causes/consequences of the phenomenon of losing diapause.

1) Population genetics: Can we artificially select for UK PCN that hatch without diapause, in what increments, and what are the underlying genes?

2) Biology: How do different components of the overall “fitness” compare between the first and second cycles within a year?

3) Modelling: What are the long-term consequences and trade-offs associated with losing diapause in the UK and Africa under different climate scenarios?


What the successful applicant will do

This project will involve field work to collect samples, laboratory studies to artificially select for and genotype populations, and computational modelling based on the data obtained.

The successful applicant will have access to a team of experts covering all major aspects of the project: Sebastian Eves-van den Akker (Head of the Plant-parasite interactions group), Nik Cunniffe (Head of the Theoretical and Computational Epidemiology group), and Eric Anderson (Senior Agronomist, Scottish Agronomy).

They will be responsible for, and can tailor the weight of, the ‘wet lab’ and ‘dry lab’ components of the project according to their interests and abilities.


Training Provided

Training will combine courses and hands on training from experienced researchers. Wet and dry lab approaches include: i) nematode culture/selection; ii) DNA extraction/sequencing; iii) general molecular biology; iv) mapping a complex biological system to a parsimonious mathematical model; v) simulating ecological models; vi) evolutionary analysis; and vii) Geographic Information Systems (GIS) techniques, to analyse spatially-resolved climate change scenarios.

They will also have an opportunity to present at national/international conferences to improve transferrable skills.



  • Coyne, Danny L., et al., 2018. “Plant-Parasitic Nematodes and Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Annual Review of Phytopathology 56: 381–403.
  • Jones, Laura M., et al. "Duplication of hsp-110 is implicated in differential success of Globodera species under climate change." Molecular biology and evolution 35.10 (2018): 2401-2413.


For details on how to apply to the Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships see