Understanding the rules of life

Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: Standard Studentships

The role of rhizosphere and endophyte microbiome in resistance to strawberry crown rot – Phytophthora cactorum

Project No.2451


Primary Supervisor

Dr Matevz Papp-Rupar – NIAB East Malling


Dr Marc Dumont – University of Southampton

Prof Xiangming Xu- NIAB East Malling


Our food production on high pesticide inputs to control diseases resulting in negative environmental impact.

Control of soilborne diseases have so far relied on the use of chemical soil fumigants which have extremely harmful consequences for soil health and have thus been banned in many countries worldwide. The lack of control measures in strawberry production have pushed UK growers into soilless system, growing plants in clean coconut fibre substrate. Even in clean soilless systems pathogens such as oomycete Phytophthora cactorum can cause severe impact. It can spread with mobile zoospores and can reduce fruit quality, yield and in severe cases kill up to 30% of plants. There are however often seemingly asymptomatic plants neighbouring dead plants in the same plot and some cultivars seem to be more tolerant than others. We hypothesise that strawberry associated microbes are at least partially responsible for increased tolerance/resistance to P. cactorum.

The work will be divided into 3 work packages of which any could be the basis for the project rotation:

  • WP1:Taxonomic and functional profiling of microbiome associated with symptomatic and asymptomatic plants to highlight the potential microbial taxa and mechanism behind increased tolerance/resistance. We will also attempt stable isotope community profiling using 13C-labeled CO2 to pinpoint the microbes directly benefiting from plant derived carbon.
  • WP2 will investigate if variability in P. cactorum susceptibility between strawberry cultivars is partially due to beneficial and biocontrol microbes associated with less susceptible cultivars.
  • WP3 we will attempt to isolate the microbes highlighted in WP1/2 to understand their biocontrol, plant growth promoting, and plant defence inducing properties and pave the way towards new microbiome based control.

The project will explore the role of beneficial and biocontrol microbes and contribute to fundamental understanding of pathogen-plant-microbiome interactions. It has also the potential to provide novel disease control products and strategies.

Experience in plant-microbe interactions, bioinformatics or the use of high performance computing is desired but not essential.