Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: Standard Studentships

Adaptation of cutting-edge photonic tools to understand food spoilage biology

Project No. 2376


Primary Supervisor

Prof Xiangming Xu – NIAB at East Malling


Prof Adrian Podoleanu- University of Kent

Matevz Papp-Rupar – NIAB at East Malling


Plant cuticle and underlying epidermis form the outermost layer protecting plants from desiccation and from abiotic and biotic stresses.

The cuticle is comprised mainly of polyester cutin and epicuticular waxes that help to prevent moisture loss and maintenance of cell turgor. In fruits, changes in surface properties play an important role in increasing consumer appeal during maturation through development of ‘blooms’ and colour changes. Importantly, the cuticle and epidermis form a mechanical barrier acting as the first-line of defence against the ingress from plant pathogens.

A key fruit pathogen in UK cherry and plum is a fungal pathogen, Monilinia laxa, causing brown rot. Fruit are increasingly susceptible to the pathogen as they mature; pre-harvest infection of healthy fruit does not lead to visual rotting but establishes latent infection, which can develop into rotting post-harvest. This age-related susceptibility is likely to be associated with skin morphological characteristics as they mature. Understanding such a relationship not only provides fundamental biological knowledge but also assists in the development of effective disease management strategies.

The PhD studentship will combine principles of optical coherence tomography and digital holography to develop novel non-invasive high resolution microscopy technologies based on interference to help improve our understanding of the changes in fruit surface properties that increase susceptibility to pathogen attack during development and ripening. These techniques will allow non-destructive longitudinal studies, and will provide a mix of structural and functional information. This exciting studentship will see the student engage with both biological research and engineering, and would particularly suit a student who is comfortable working in an interdisciplinary environment.