Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: Standard Studentships

Implications of mobile genetic elements on biofilm formation in Pseudomonas syringae and its biological control

Project No. 2312


Primary Supervisor

Dr Tomislav Cernava – University of Southampton


Dr Xiangming Xu – NIAB at East Malling

Dr Franklin Nobrega – University of Southampton


Project summary including rationale, approaches to be used, areas of potential impact, and any candidate qualities that would be particularly suitable for the project (300 words max.)
Plant pathogens are causing serious damage in intensive agriculture. Their control requires substantial inputs of agrochemicals that can be harmful to the environment. Increasing the sustainability in food production requires a better understanding of local micro-environments and biological entities that facilitate disease establishment and progression. The project will assess implications of bacteriophages and mobile genetic elements in disease development caused by Pseudomonas syringae. This pathogen can infect a wide range of plants and causes substantial damage in orchards. The pathogen’s ability to form robust biofilms facilitates its overwintering in infected plant tissues and subsequent infection of leaves and blossoms.

Aim 1: Metagenomics-based approaches will be used to analyze bacteriophage communities and MGEs in infected plant tissues (Prunus spp.; stem and leaves). Correlation analyses will be conducted to explore links between bacteriophage compositions and other mobile genetic elements in biofilm formation, as well as disease progression/severity.

Aim 2: Identification of candidate prophages and plasmids causing/supporting biofilm development and/or disease progression/severity will be conducted. Spatially-resolved experiments on leaves will be included to explore intra-population adaptation of P. syringae during disease progression. Manipulation of broadly present mobile genetic elements to validate their implication in biofilm development and disease progression.

Aim 3: Evaluation of the implications of a biocontrol agent (Bacillus sp.) on P. syringae at the population-level during biofilm formation.

The data obtained in this project will contribute to the sustainable control of Pseudomonas syringae by identifying previously unknown factors that promote its resilience and spread. Moreover, detailed assessments of an already available biological control agent will be further assessed in order to facilitate its application.

Applicants interested in this project should have a background in microbiology or phytopathology and be willing to perform bioinformatic analyses and molecular experiments, as well as engage in field experiments.