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Global diversity and ecosystem functions of plant-microbe symbioses

Primary Supervisor: Professor Gary Bending, School of Life Sciences

Secondary supervisor: Dr Chris Quince, University of Warwick Medical School

Additional supervisors: Dr Rob Griffiths, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Bangor, UK & Dr Megan Ryan, University of Western Australia, Australia

PhD project title: Global diversity and ecosystem functions of plant-microbe symbioses

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

Arbuscular mycorrhizas (AM) are the most widespread symbiosis between higher plants and fungi, and have major impacts on terrestrial ecosystem processes, including biogeochemical cycling and the diversity and productivity of plant communities. Fungi which form AM have been assumed to comprise the phylum Glomeromycota. However, we have shown that fungi which form the distinctive ‘fine root endophyte’ (FRE) AM morphotype are actually members of the phylum Mucoromycota, which diverged from the Glomeromycota over 700 million years ago, before the colonization of land by plants. Although we know that FRE are globally distributed, and can be abundant within ecosystems, we know almost nothing about the diversity, ecology or ecosystem function of the fungi involved.

However, evidence suggests that FREs and Glomeromycota have different interactions with the environment and may be functionally distinct. In this project you will investigate the diversity and composition of FRE globally, and key environmental factors which determine their abundance and distribution. Metagenome analysis will be used to investigate the presence of traits associated with key biogeochemical cycling processes in the genomes of FRE. Further work will study nutrient exchange between FRE and their hosts.


  1. Orchard, S., Hilton, S., Bending, G.D., Dickie, I.A., Standish, R.J., Gleeson, D., Jeffery, R.P., Powell, J.R., Walker, C., Bass, D., Monk, J., Simonin, A., Ryan, M.H. A. (2016) Fine endophytes (Glomus tenue) phylogenetically align with Mucoromycotina, not Glomeromycota. New Phytologist 213, 481-486.
  2. Orchard, S., Standish, R.J., Dickie, I.A., Walker, C., Moot, D, Ryan, M.H. (2017) Fine root endophytes under scrutiny: a review of the literature on arbuscule-producing fungi recently suggested to belong to the Mucoromycotina. Mycorrhiza 27, 619-638.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Sustainable Agriculture and Food: Plant and Crop Science & Understanding the rules of life: Soil science, Plant science and Microbiology

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • PCR-amplicon sequencing
  • Metagenomic and metatranscriptomic sequencing
  • Quantitative PCR
  • Network analysis
  • Multivariate statistical analysis
  • Microbial isolation and characterization
  • Plant growth trials under controlled environmental conditions

Typical working pattern hours:

37.5 hrs per week with flexible working arrangements

Contact: Professor Gary Bending, University of Warwick