My research Biography I completed a BSc in Biological Sciences with a Study Year abroad at the University of Exeter in 2014. My year abroad was spent at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. My main interest during my time at Exeter included the environment, from environmental microbiology to the ecology of environmental change, and through to food security; interactions between plants, disease and the environment. My time at Carleton introduced me to mycology and the specific role of fungi in crop diseases. An internship at Harper Adams University, funded by the Horticultural Development Company (HDC), led me to understand the need for integration between biological science and crop production and led into my current position as a PhD student at the University of Warwick. I am studying the biology and epidemiology of a pathogen that causes a disease of carrots, and hope to use this knowledge to investigate potential control measures. My four-year studentship is funded by the HDC.
Research Carrot production in the UK is marketed at over £120 million a year (DEFRA 2014) and cavity spot disease is considered one of the most important issues for growers. The disease is characterised by small, sunken elliptical lesions that form in the root. The economic impact per season is often between £3-5 million (Martin, 2013). Although the disease was first recognised in the 1960’s, it’s cause has been widely debated, a little is known about the disease other than the causal agent. This is an oomycete called Pythium violae. However no clear correlations have been found between the environmental conditions and the disease severity. It appears there are multiple interactions between the pathogen, its environment and the soil microbe community that affect its ability to colonise the carrot host, and lack of understanding of this is impairing the ability to effectively research management strategies. To allow progress in understanding of this disease, my research needs to understand both the biology of the pathogen, and how the pathogen interacts with it’s environment to cause disease. In light of this, I have 2 main research aims: 1. To develop effective tools for P.violae research 2. To investigate P.violae dynamics, ecology and interactions with soil microbiota. Research detail: Effective tools for P.violae research I will collect and characterise a range of isolates from around the country to build a ‘map’ of variation within the UK. Development of PCR primers, including qPCR primers, specific to P.violae will allow increased reliability in identification and quantification of the pathogen in the soil. Current detection is highly variable and may be unrepresentative; an improved sampling and/or DNA extraction technique will allow more confidence in detection limits and more representative results. Using the isolates collected, artificial inoculation experiments in controlled environment will allow consistent infections, and in turn allow assessment of potential control measures. To investigate P.violae dynamics, ecology and interactions with soil microbiota. Monitoring the levels of P.violae in carrot growing soil year round will allow us to investigate how external variables may influence disease level. Development of the artificial inoculation system will allow testing of abiotic factors to advance this work. The study of P.violae interaction with soil microbiota will be studied with next generation sequencing, specifically looking at fungal and bacterial communities associated with carrots and selected non-crop hosts.
K dot R dot Hales at warwick dot ac dot uk
University of Warwick
Tel. +44 (0)24 7657 5145