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Professor Gary Bending

Supervisor Details

Professor Gary Bending

Contact Details

Professor Gary Bending

School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick

Research Interests

My research group studies the diversity and roles of microbial communities inhabiting plants, soil and water. We work across a range of natural and agricultural systems. We take a broad approach to studying the biodiversity of microbiomes, with expertise in studying virus, bacterial, fungal, protist and nematode communities. We investigate the processes which control how complex microbial communities assemble, and the way this is influenced by factors such as plant species/ genotype, soil characteristics and climatic variables. A particular focus is unravelling how microbes interact with plants and the wider environment, including their contributions to plant health and the cycling of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in soil.

We work with industry on a range of projects, including studying the environmental fate of chemicals such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals, and the way in which plant-associated microbial communities affect crop growth. We collaborate widely with researchers in the UK, Australia, Ireland and Sweden.

Project Details

Prof Bending is supervising a CASE project:

Microbial degradation and environmental fate of pesticides in a changing climate

Non-academic partner: Dr Rebecca Southwell, Syngenta

Project description

We invite applicants for a 4-year iCASE studentship to work in collaboration with our industrial partner Syngenta.

Pesticides are essential in crop production due to their role in improving crop yield and food security. Before being granted approval for use, pesticides are subject to regulatory evaluation using a framework designed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These tests provide evidence of the extent to which a pesticide persists in the environment and the risks they pose. Although valuable, the tests are conducted under laboratory conditions, which often lack environmental realism and therefore may not accurately reflect pesticide fate and transformation in the real world.

Previous collaborative research between Warwick and Syngenta has shown that when environmental samples are taken at different times of the year but incubated under the same conditions in the laboratory, pesticide degradation was slower when temperatures were colder in the real environment. Microbial degradation is one of the most important processes in determining pesticide fate and it is unclear if these differences in degradation are due to specific microbial communities not being present at colder times of year, or whether microbial consortia are acclimatised to colder temperatures and therefore are not as active at the higher laboratory temperatures.

You will compare pesticide degradation under incubation temperatures of traditional OECD test designs with temperatures more closely aligned to those at the time of environmental sample collection from the real environment (e.g. river water and sediment or soil). To determine pesticide degradation, you will use a range of analyses, including liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. This will be complemented with molecular profiling of microbial communities, including metagenomic and metabolomic analyses, to provide an understanding of how pesticide degradation is linked to the microbial communities and their functional characteristics. You will use the data to investigate the composition and activities of communities which underlie pesticide degradation and the temperature dependence of these interactions. Further work will investigate the extent to which temperature acclimatisation periods affect the composition of microbial communities and their capacity for pesticide degradation.

The project will provide understanding to guide regulatory approval of new chemicals and could aid the design of tests used to investigate the environmental fate of pesticides. It would also provide insight into how the microbial communities responsible for pesticide fate and transformation will be affected by a changing climate.

This iCASE studentship is co-funded by Syngenta, and the student will receive an uplift of £5000 per year on top of the MIBTP stipend. Syngenta are also providing an enhanced funding package to support both laboratory work and attendance at International conferences. The student has the opportunity to undertake a fully funded 3-month research placement at the company’s research centre in Bracknell.

Candidates are encouraged to contact Prof Gary Bending to discuss the project before applying if they wish to.


Deadline: 04 January 2024

To apply for a CASE studentship, please check your eligibility and complete the MIBTP application process.

Please ensure that you;

  • Apply directly to the University of Warwick
  • Clearly state you are applying for a CASE project and stipulate the project title.
  • Please also complete the online ED&I form

Prof Bending is also the co-supervisor on a project with Dr Ryan Mushinski.

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