Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

Category: Standard Studentships

Business as usual is unsustainable: we must produce healthier foods, using appropriate phosphorus inputs

Project No. 2468


Primary Supervisor

Dr Eleftheria Stavridou – NIAB East Malling


Dr Helen Cockerton- University of Kent

Dr Louisa Robinson Boyer – NIAB East Malling


Increasing global demand for food drives the need for higher phosphorus (P) inputs into food production systems.

Phosphorus is crucial for plant growth and metabolism. The current global P cycle is unsustainable, as phosphate rock, a non-renewable resource, it is essential for the generation of fertilizers and animal feeds, and is so a critical element for global food security.

Plants enhance P availability through various mechanisms like root architecture remodelling, inducing upregulating P transporters, organic acid and phosphatase secretion, symbiosis with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), phosphate storage, and remobilization. In strawberries, nutrient availability significantly affects yield and quality.

To optimize P use efficiency in crops, several strategies can be employed: site-specific crop management modifications, integrated soil fertility management, rhizosphere management, and using P-efficient cultivars and bio-fertilizers. The general objective of this project is to understand the processes governing P acquisition efficiency in substrate-grown strawberries, an economically important crop in the UK.

The aims of the project are to:

  • Understand the root system architecture plasticity of strawberries.
  • Study the pattern of root exudation in strawberry plants grown in P deficiency.
  • Investigate the propensity of strawberry cultivars to form mycorrhizal associations.
  • Determine the impact of nutrient levels on mycorrhizal association and root system architecture. – Assess the influence of P availability on the quality and quantity of bioactive compounds in strawberry fruits.

This project will improve our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of the P cycle in modern strawberry production. Implementing strategies for sustainable P use can support the transformation towards more sustainable food systems.

We are looking for candidates within the fields of agriculture, plant and soil science, soil chemistry, and/or (bio)geochemistry. Applicants should be familiar with basic plant-soil interactions and belowground processes. Experimental experience with plant growth, soil analyses, and bio-chemical imaging will be an advantage. The applicant should be interested in both field and laboratory work.