Understanding the rules of life

Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: Standard Studentships

Harder, stronger and faster crops – bioengineering of Streptomyces-plant symbionts

Project No. 2136

Primary Supervisor

Dr Simon Moore – University of Kent


Dr Matevz Papp-Rupar – NIAB EMR

Prof Xiangming Xu – NIAB EMR



Agriculture is worth about £24 billion to the UK bioeconomy, but it is threatened by rising levels of pest resistance, through to global warming and extreme conditions. Synthetic biology aims to design and engineer new life, using standardised parts and devices tested through the design-build-test-learn cycle approach.


This project aims to engineer symbiotic Streptomyces soil strains to release growth-stimulating factors and antimicrobials, to stimulate growth and eliminate disease threats, respectively. Specifically, we will target symbiotic interactions with Fragaria x ananassa (strawberry), which is an important UK produce severely compromised by crown rot (Phytopyhora cactorum). First, the Moore lab (Uni of Kent) will engineer a synthetic auxin (indole-3-acetic acid) biosynthesis pathway in laboratory Streptomyces strains. Auxin plays a crucial role in root system development and is a known plant growth promoting factor. Cutting edge synthetic biology tools (e.g. CRISPR/Cas9) and a biosensor approach to detect auxin production will be used. Plant growth promoting activity of the engineered strains will be assessed in Papp-Rupar / Xu lab. First the activity will be assessed in model plant Arabidopsis thaliana in-vitro followed by studies in soil and other media in Arabidopsis and strawberry. Additionally, rhizosphere and endophytic strains of Streptomyces will be isolated from horticultural environment and assessed for their biocontrol potential against Phytopthora cactorum. Sporulating Streptomyces with biocontrol potential will then serve as the ultimate recipient of the engineered auxin biosynthesis pathway to combine biocontrol with growth promotion.


Natural symbiotic interactions are severely understudied area of biology but have enormous potential to complement traditional agricultural chemical methods such pesticides and fertiliser. This project will study the potential of synthetic biology to engineer wild symbiotic Streptomyces bacteria with value-added potential to benefit growth and resist invasive pathogens.