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Eves-van den Akker Group: The contribution of horizontal gene transfer to the evolution of plant-parasitism by nematodes


Supervisor: Sebastian Eves-van den Akker (Plant Sciences)

Project details:

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 Studentship starting in 2020. 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.


  • Genome Evolution of Plant Parasitic Nematodes
    J. T. Jones+, S. Eves-van den Akker+ and T. Kikuchi+ (2017). Annual Review of Phytopathology, 55(1).

  • The genomic and transcriptomic bases of pathogenicity in the golden potato cyst nematode, Globodera rostochiensis
    S. Eves-van den Akker*+ and D.R. Laetsch+, P. Thorpe+, C. J. Lilley+, E. G. J. Danchin, M. Da Rocha, C.Rancurel, E. Grenier, J. Montarry, N. E. Holroyd, J. A. Cotton, B. Mimee, M. Duceppe, I. Boyes, J. Lapalme, M. Esquibet, M. Sabeh, M. Rott, H. Overmars, A. Tomczak, G. Smant, V. Blok, S. Mantelin, P. J. A. Cock, W. Phillips, J. Marvin, L. M Jones, H. B. Yusup, P. E Urwin, M. Blaxter, J. T. Jones. (2016) – Genome biology 201617:124 DOI: 10.1186/s13059-016-0985-1

  • The transcriptome of Nacobbus aberrans reveals insights into the evolution of sedentary endoparasitism in plant-parasitic nematodes
    Sebastian Eves-van den Akker, C. J. Lilley, E. G. J. Danchin, C. Rancurel, P. J. A. Cock, P. E. Urwin and J. T. Jones (2014). Genome Biology and Evolution 6 (9): 2181-2194. Nacobbus transcriptome assembly :

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