PhD student on the NERC Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet (SSCP) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment.
PhD: Predicting the evolutionary response of crop pathogens to climate change
Food security is an important challenge for human populations worldwide. Nearly 50% of crop yields globally are lost to pests and diseases, and reducing these losses is essential for meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2 to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.” Efficient food production methods are needed that guarantee adequate supply and economic returns, while limiting the environmental impacts such as habitat modification, pesticide use and eutrophication. One of the main areas for tackling these problems is in the control of pathogens. Pathogens and their associated crop hosts have been locked in an on-going co-evolutionary process for millennia of “boom and bust cycles” of disease epidemics, and a key challenge is predicting how this will respond to climate change.
The long-term aim of this project is sustainable disease management, with novel strategies for plant fungal pathogen control to reduce their evolutionary potential. The fungal species coffee wilt, Fusarium xylarioides, will be used, a fungus which causes devastating yield reductions and economic loss to farmers. Approximately 80% of all crops have a Fusarium disease associated with them. To do this, new approaches and data are needed, using the CABI culture collection of cryopreserved living fungal strains and genome sequencing techniques. Historic genetic changes will be reconstructed, with links between those changes and parameters relating to biotic and abiotic environments and biocontrol measures established.