PhD studentship: Ecological and sustainable foodborne disease management

Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 12:30

‘On-farm’ seed priming: an ecological & sustainable disease management strategy

We are seeking a highly motivated individual to carry out PhD research in the field of agronomy, plant physiology, crop production and plant-microbe interactions. This studentship, funded by the Ekhaga foundation, will provide a platform to build an interdisciplinary research career in the field of Sustainable Agriculture & Agroecology.

The funding for this studentship has already been secured and the successful applicant must be able to start within the next 6 months (or very soon thereafter).The student will be based at the University of Stirling, supervised by Dr Richard Quilliam, and will also benefit from extensive collaboration with colleagues at Bangor University.

Background – There is an urgent need to make food production more sustainable both in economic and environmental terms. Central to this is the need to reduce our reliance on pesticides, while maintaining high levels of crop production and health. This can only be achieved through integrated and sustainable pest and disease management. This studentship directly addresses this need by investigating the role of seed priming on the induction of plant disease resistance. ‘On-farm’ seed priming is a low cost, simple and effective technology whereby seeds are anaerobically soaked in water for several hours prior to sowing. This speeds up germination, seedling emergence and improves seedling establishment & vigour (and ultimately yield) in a range of crops. Information emerging from around the world suggests that anaerobic ‘on-farm’ seed priming confers a wide range of benefits to crop plants, e.g. increased micronutrient uptake, tolerance to drought and increased levels of resistance to diseases. The mechanistic and physiological basis behind this resistance however, has never before been studied and needs critical evaluation in a sustainable agricultural context. Further, in addition to the perceived benefits of ‘on-farm’ seed priming to European agricultural systems, this technology is perfectly placed to be adapted to local situations in developing countries, and could be effectively disseminated and adopted by resource-poor farmers.

Therefore the overall objective of this proposal is to focus on the mechanistic and physiological basis of increased disease resistance in crop plants following ‘on-farm’ seed priming, as part of an integrated and sustainable management strategy. In order to understand the potential for ‘on-farm’ seed priming to sustainably reduce plant disease, the student will test four integrated hypotheses, (i) increased seedling vigour affects the state of readiness of the plant to defend itself; (ii) more rapid emergence reduces the size of the ‘infection window’ available to the pathogen; (iii) ‘On-farm’ seed priming is perceived as an abiotic stress, and triggers a degree of induced immunity; (iv) early colonisation by mycorrhizal fungi is limited and thus a greater amount of energy can be used for defence.

By combining physiological, biochemical & microscopy methods to quantify disease incidence & resistance in field trials and pot-grown plants, this PhD project will provide important & timely transformative and sustainable agricultural solutions to address the increased demand for agro-ecological strategies to increase crop yields.

This studentship is only open to UK and EU citizens; please do not apply if you do not fulfil this requirement. The entry qualification for this PhD studentship is a first class or upper second class honours degree and/or a relevant postgraduate degree, in either agronomy/agriculture or a biological/environmental science. The deadline for applications is 15th January 2016.

Please email a CV and covering letter with the contact details (including email addresses) of two referees to Dr Richard Quilliam ( Your covering letter should clearly set out your suitability and motivation for this PhD with reference to your past experience and achievements.

Informal enquiries should be directed to Dr. Richard Quilliam:

Ashraf, M & Foolad, MR. 2005. Pre‐sowing seed treatment – A shotgun approach to improve germination, plant growth, and crop yield under saline and non‐saline conditions. Advances in Agronomy 88: 223-271.
Harris D, et al. 2005. The improvement of crop yield in marginal environments using ‘on-farm’ seed priming: nodulation, nitrogen fixation and disease resistance. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 56:1211-1218
Harris, D., et al. 2008. Alleviating micronutrient deficiencies in alkaline soils of the NWFP of Pakistan: on-farm seed priming with zinc in wheat and chickpea in Pakistan. Plant Soil 306: 3-10.
Rashid, A., et al. 2004. ‘On-farm’ seed priming reduces yield losses of mungbean associated with mungbean yellow mosaic virus in the NWFP of Pakistan. Crop Protection 23: 1119-1124.

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