Understanding the rules of life

Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: Standard Studentships

How to build a super phage: Understanding and improving bacteriophage biocontrol of Pseudomonas syringae pathovars

Project No. 2143

Primary Supervisor

Dr Matevz Papp-Rupar – NIAB EMR


Dr Franklin L. Nobrega – University of Southampton

Professor Bill Keevil – University of Southampton

Professor Xiangming Xu – NIAB-EMR


Phytopathogenic bacteria affect a wide range of agricultural and horticultural crops and cause severe losses worldwide.

Pseudomonas syringae pathovars are a major bacterial pathogen from an economic and scientific point of view. Pathovars syringae and morsprunorum cause bacterial canker on Prunus trees (e.g. cherry, plum…) with losses to UK fruit production estimated to above £500,000 every year. Severe rainfall and higher temperature due to climate change are predicted to make matters significantly worse.  The current wide spectrum antimicrobial control strategies such as the use of antibiotics and copper are being banned due to their detrimental effects on environment, human health and due to the risk of passing antimicrobial resistance to human pathogens.

The arch enemy of bacterial populations are bacteriophages, specific viruses that are able to hijack bacterial cells to produce more infectious virions before cell lysis. There are however several considerations before effective bacteriophage biocontrol can be developed.

Phages need to target the right pathogen strains, they need to be stable in horticultural environment, should not compete for the same hosts, and should be able to evade emergence of bacterial resistance.

The aim of this project is to answer a deceivingly simple question: What makes an effective biocontrol phage cocktail for agriculture?

We will use in-vitro and in-vivo coevolution of phages and pathogens together with genome sequencing to assemble the possible evolutionary outcomes of phages and bacterial pathogens in planta.  In silico design of bacteriophages will be then used to try to improve on biocontrol potential and stability of natural phages by combining genomic features of different phage strains.

This project will contribute crucial knowledge on the interactions between phages, bacteria in plant that could transform our understanding of phage biocontrol with wide reaching impact beyond Pseudomonas spp.