Understanding the rules of life

Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: CASE Studentships

Environmental and genetic determinants of Brassica crop damage by the agricultural pest Diamondback moth

Project No. 2371


Primary Supervisor

Dr Herman Wijnen- University of Southampton


Dr Haruko Okamoto – University of Sussex

Dr Fryni Drizou – Royal Horticultural Society


The diamondback moth (DBM), Plutella xylostella, is an agricultural pest with worldwide impact on brassica crops (>$5 billion in annual damages).

Its unique glucosinolate sulfatase (GSS) enzymes allow it to specialize on cruciferous host plants by evading their glucosinolate/myrosinase defence system1. In preliminary studies, we established that herbivory by DBM caterpillars is controlled both by environmental light and their internal daily timekeeping systems. Moreover, the expression of DBM GSS genes exhibits circadian rhythmicity. This project aims to elucidate abiotic and biological determinants of DBM herbivory of its host plants. It will complement ongoing research focused on circadian control of herbivory in the DBM caterpillar by concentrating on environmentally-controlled defence mechanisms in cruciferous plants (Brassica rapa and Arabidopsis thaliana). The following Specific Objectives will be pursued:

SO1)      Identify how host plant glucosinolate production and herbivory by DBM are affected by (a) glucosinolate biosynthesis and daily timekeeping in the host plant, (b) daily environmental cycles in light and temperature. The latter will simulate representative light/temperature cycles for the UK and explicitly explore the predicted impact of light pollution and global warming.

SO2)      Identify changes in plant and DBM expression profiles that are closely associated with changes in herbivory across different environmental contexts.

Candidate qualities would include a background in genetics and molecular biology and research experience in one or both of these areas.