Professor Tracy Lawson (School of Life Sciences, University of Essex)
Dr Ruth Bryant (RAGT Seeds Ltd)
Ms Helen Wilson (RAGT Seeds Ltd)
Increasing crop productivity in an environmentally sustainable manner is a global challenge of the 21st century. Agronomists have long known that plants modify their local soil microbiome, accumulating species-specific pathogens that suppress that crop’s growth. Rotational cropping practices are used to overcome these negative soil feedbacks. These practices have historically taken a “black box” approach, relying on simple observations of which crops and rotational covers are best suited to follow each other. However, we now have the scientific tools required to open this black box, and provide a mechanistic understanding of how different crops and covers alter the soil microbiome, potentially supporting long-term crop improvement via manipulating plant-microbe interactions. Do you want to be the researcher who uses this new knowledge base to provide novel solutions to improve cropping practices?
You will establish a series of field trials, targeting different wheat cultivars and cover crops, both grown as monoculture and mixtures, and quantify how these modify the local soil microbiome. Both taxonomic and functional modifications to the soil microbiome will be examined, allowing identification of cultivar/cover-specific positive and negative plant-soil interactions. These plant-soil feedbacks across multiple cropping cycles will be used to develop predictive models that identify how to modify the soil microbiome for improved crop performance.
You will be trained to be a multidisciplinary researcher and emerge from your PhD as a highly employable scientist. Specific training will cover: agricultural field trials and crop rotation practices, Next Generation Sequencing and molecular ecology approaches, automated robotic sample preparation, high-performance computing, bioinformatics, ecoinformatics, modelling and statistics, experimental design and plant physiology. With broad training in scientific skills provided as part of the Continuing Professional Development course at Essex and ARIES-cohort training.
We are looking for an enthusiastic person with a degree in a related subject (e.g. Ecology, Biology, Agronomy, Microbiology) and an interest in plant biology and microbial ecology. You must possess well-developed written and oral communication skills and be able to manage your time effectively. You will be required to do both field and laboratory work.