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Dr Sebastian Eves-van den Akker
Effectors dictate the engagement between plants and invading organisms. Your project aims to define the specialised mechanisms of effector biogenesis in plant-parasitic nematodes as targets for control.
The problem: Plant-parasitic nematodes threaten global food security. Latent infections are set to explode across Europe in the near future with the phasing out of existing chemical controls. The demand for new solutions highlights significant knowledge gaps necessary to achieve them.
The ability of nematodes to cause disease, like all pathogens, depends on hundreds of “effectors”: molecules delivered into the plant during infection. Blocking effectors blocks parasitism, however, blocking individual effectors is insufficient. Rather, we should attack the features that unite most effectors – their biogenesis machinery. Effectors have to pass through a specialised conduit to get into the plant. Surely, this effector biogenesis conduit is the Achilles heel of the nematode.
Effector biogenesis has not been studied for 30 years because the system was intractable. With our recent development in functional genetic tools, we are now well placed to dissect this strategically important knowledge gap. In your thesis, you will have the freedom to choose two of the following areas, with one being the principal focus:
1) Effector production – what induces effector biosynthesis in the nematode?
2) Effector modification – are effectors post-translationally modified and what relevance does this have?
3) Effector packaging – how are effectors selectively packaged and what is the machinery responsible?
4) Effector delivery – when and how do effectors get delivered into the plant?
In each case, the goal is to advance our understanding of this aspect of effector biogenesis in enough detail in order to test whether disrupting it will disrupt parasitism, and thereby provide routes to sustainable control of these devastating, but often overlooked, plant pathogens that threaten global food security.
This project will be located at the University of Cambridge Crop Science Centre, a brand-new building and strategic initiative to accelerate the transition to sustainable agriculture. This studentship is fully funded on an ERC project, and the successful applicant will start in 2023. Feel free to get in contact if you are interested..