Exploring interactions between entomopathogens and Spotted Wing Drosophila

NIAB EMR: Drs Glen Powell, Richard Harrison, and Michelle Fountain
Harper Adams University: Dr Tom Pope,
Cranfield University: Prof. Naresh Magan

Background

Drosophila suzukii (spotted wing drosophila, SWD) has recently invaded the UK and its rapid population build-up and geographical spread is resulting in severe damage to soft and stone fruits. Currently, control of this invasive pest is reliant on chemical insecticides, but fungal pathogens such as Metarhizium sp. offer effective alternatives to chemicals with lower environmental impact. Despite the importance of Metarhizium sp. as biocontrol agents, there are still several aspects relating to their efficacy that are unknown. This project provides exciting opportunities for the student to compare the virulence of different Metarhizium strains and use comparative genomics and transcriptomics approaches to investigate the molecular basis of fungal pathogenicity and the corresponding immune response in the Drosophila host. It is envisaged that the student will identify and characterise Metarhizium effector genes and develop molecular tools for genome-wide functional analysis, targeting multiple pathogenesis related genes.

The project will provide an in-depth understanding of the host-pathogen interactions, revealing new insights into processes in both the fungus and insect that either promote or disrupt effective pest control. A better understanding of these processes will enable their future manipulation as part of improved biocontrol measures for insect pests of socio-economic importance.

Objectives

  • Identify and characterise the most effective strains of Metarhizium for controlling SWD
  • Investigate the underlying mechanisms contributing to modes of pathogenesis
  • Investigate determinants of the insect immune response

 Training opportunities

The PhD offers the student the opportunity to work with leading researchers in a cutting edge area of genomics and invasive pest science. The project will provide training across several key areas related to life sciences and crop protection. The student will be trained in skills relevant to applied entomology, mycology and pest management during the early phases of the project, investigating how the efficacy of entomopathogens depends on the genotypes of fungal pathogen and host insect. The student will also generate and analyse genome sequence and RNA-seq data to highlight the roles of candidate pathogenicity effector proteins and components of the insect immune response, revealing the dynamics of the interplay between pathogen and host during interactions of high and low virulence. Methods for characterising gene function, such as conventional USER cloning and CRISPR-cas, will also be developed and applied during the project.

Starting in October 2018, applicants need to have lots of enthusiasm, a first class or upper second class honours degree and research experience in a relevant subject. The student will be registered with Harper Adams University.

Anyone interested should send your application (CV, cover letter, personal statement and two names for reference) to  recruitment@emr.ac.uk, citing the project reference. Application deadline is 13 April 2018.