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PhD project: Integrated control of Sclerotinia disease in celery and lettuce

PhD Start date: January 2018

Application Deadline: 17 November 2017

PhD Supervisor(s): Dr John Clarkson (University of Warwick), Dr Emma Garfield (G's Growers)

Funding: Tuition fees in full at the Home/EU rate. An annual stipend of at least £14,553 for 4 years

Project Description:

The soilborne plant pathogenic fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum causes stem and crown rots on a range of important horticultural crop plants such as beans, brassica, carrots, celery, lettuce and potatoes, resulting in major economic losses globally. Infection is initiated by airborne ascospores released from mushroom-like apothecia which are produced by soilborne survival structures known as sclerotia. Disease control is primarily focused on preventing ascospore infection through application of fungicides but this approach is becoming increasingly undesirable. The number of S. sclerotiorum sclerotia also continues to build up in many soils, resulting in increased disease pressure and presenting a major long-term challenge for growers. However, little attention is given to reducing this primary inoculum as part of a more sustainable disease management strategy. This is very much the case for intensive vegetable production systems such as in southern Spain where celery and lettuce are grown by Gs Growers as a large part of their business to ensure year-round availability for the UK. Losses due to Sclerotinia in lettuce in these areas averages at least 10% and in severe cases more than 50%. The importance of Spanish production for both UK suppliers and consumers has recently been highlighted through the recent ‘lettuce crisis’ where adverse weather disrupted supplies.

The main aim of this project is to develop methods for reducing the impact of Sclerotinia disease by reducing sclerotial survival and viability. The main objectives are to 1) collect, identify and characterise Spanish S. sclerotiorum isolates using molecular genotyping to compare with existing data for UK isolates, 2) determine environmental conditions required for sclerotial germination of Spanish isolates compared to UK isolates, 3) determine efficacy of different soil treatments including (bio) solarisation, biofumigation, anaerobic disinfestation and biological control agents.

G’s Growers are one of Europe’s leading family-owned fresh produce companies and a major producer of celery and lettuce. Although the student will be based in at the University of Warwick, they will have a unique opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in Spain embedded in the G’s business and carrying out field based research. The studentship will therefore suit an individual who wants to learn from both academia and commercial environments, is keen to see their research put into practice and envisages a career at the interface between agricultural practice and research. The project will therefore combine high quality science with real-world agronomy and includes aspects of plant pathology, soil science and agronomy.

The four-year studentship is part of a BBSRC-funded Collaborative Training Partnership (CTP) between the Waitrose Partnership, their international food production and supply companies, Lancaster University, the University of Reading, the University of Warwick and Rothamsted Research. This studentship is open to UK and EU students who meet BBSRC residency criteria.



Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Agriculture, Biological or Environmental Sciences. The ability and willingness to drive to field sites frequently is essential and some Spanish language skills would be an advantage. Some experience in plant pathology or of a land-based industry is also desirable.

Applications are encouraged from UK and EU students.

To be eligible for a full funding award (Tuition fees and Stipend) a student must have:

  • Settled status in the UK, meaning they have no restrictions on how long then can stay and
  • Been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the studentship. This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences) and
  • Not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for th epurpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals).

To be eligible for a tuition fees only award:

Students from EU countries other than the UK are generally eligible for a fees-only award.

  • a student must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU, in the same way as UK students must be ordinarily resident in the UK.
  • Make an initial project enquiry by contacting Dr John Clarkson John dot Clarkson at warwick dot ac dot uk
  • Complete the online application form - choose PhD in Biological Science (C1P0) and enter Waitrose/Clarkson in the Finance section.
  • Upload a transcript from your current or previous study, a CV and any other documents that you feel would support your application (within 24 hours of submitting your online applicaion you will receive a link allowing you to upload additional supporting documents).
  • Ask your referees to submit a reference for you. Note: when you submit your application, an email will automatically be sent to your referees requesting a reference for you. This email will contain a secure link for your referee to upload a reference for you.