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Dr Lida Derevnina and Dr Sebastian Eves-van den Akker


Importance of Research

Root-knot nematodes (RKNs, Meloidogyne spp.) are considered the most economically important plant-parasitic nematodes on the planet. These nematodes have the broadest host range amongst plant-parasitic nematodes, encompassing nearly every major food crop, and, as obligate biotrophs have the ability to exquisitely alter host metabolism, development, physiology, and immunity. To achieve this, RKNs secrete effectors that induce the formation of a new pseudo-organ within the plant, from which they feed for several weeks. Most of these effectors are synthesized in the oesophageal glands and secreted through the nematode stylet during infection. Despite being major players in pathogenicity, the function and identity of few RKN effectors have been characterised. Defining the repertoire of RKN effectors and characterising their function will be necessary in understanding the infection strategies that underpin the RKN paradox.


Project Summary

In this project, the candidate will identify and functionally characterize the effector repertoire of four Meloidogyne species, which differ in ploidy level, host range and virulence, to define, characterize and study the core effectorome of RKN, to reveal key information about RKN pathogenesis.


What will the successful application do?

Using state-of-the-art single cell analyses, the student will generate nematode oesophageal gland libraries from parasitic stages of four Meloidogyne species for transcriptomic analysis. Upon identification of candidate effectors – the student will

1) undertake comparative genomic approaches to define the “core” effectorome;

2) systematically test these “core” effectors for function in in planta assays to determine the role they play in parasitism and the key players that mediate host susceptibility; and

3) define the interactome of “core” effectors to better understand the strategy RKNs use to subvert host processes. 


Training Provided 

The student will gain expertise in a range of standard molecular biology techniques, genomics (generating high throughput sequencing libraries), comparative genomics, biochemistry and conduct in planta functional characterisation in the model plant species Nicotiana benthamiana.

The student will have the benefit of joint supervision by experts in each respective part of the project: Lida Derevnina, and members of her newly established lab, will be the primary supervisor and mentor for aspects related to plant immunity; Sebastian Eves-van den Akker and members of his lab will supervise aspects related to effector discovery. This multidisciplinary and collaborative project will provide the student with a range of skills that will be greatly beneficial for their future careers and the experience of working in the collaborative environment that is commonplace in research.

The student will be located at the Crop Science Centre, a brand-new research institute and a joint initiative between the University of Cambridge and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany that aims to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable agriculture.