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PhD Studentship: To seal or not to seal. Characterization of root sealing regulatory mechanisms in plant colonised by microbes


Location:  UK Other
Closing Date:  Tuesday 17 January 2023
Reference:  SCI2127

UoN Supervisor names: Dr Gabriel Castrillo and Dr Almudena Ortiz-Urquiza from the University of Nottingham

Research description: 

Plant roots are responsible for nutrient and water uptake from the “outside” environment; the soil. This process is controlled by a specialized cell layer in the root, the endodermis. To keep the right concentration of nutrients in the plant, avoiding its leakage, this cell layer has evolved mechanisms of sealing, the blockage of the space between contiguous cells. One missing aspect in this sealing mechanism, critical for the organism survival, is the resident microbiota that is metabolically active and might disturb the cell layer sealing with consequences for nutrient and water balance.  With this proposed project we will explore a new technological concept around the use of exogenous small molecules that mimic plant regulatory components to control the root sealing mechanisms directly or through their interactions with the resident root microbiome. It represents an invaluable tool to gain new insight into the regulation of new mineral nutrient homeostatic mechanisms controlled by the root microbiota. Questions we will address include: What regulatory molecules coordinate the crosstalk between the root sealing and the microbiota? How do different regulatory elements control mineral nutrient accumulation under ecological relevant conditions? 

The project will be supervised by a team of supervisors that includes Dr Claudio Screpanti from Syngenta and Dr Gabriel Castrillo and Dr Almudena Ortiz-Urquiza from the University of Nottingham. You will join our Plant-Microbe interactions and nutrition group ( at Sutton Bonington campus, Plant Sciences building at the University of Nottingham.

You will have access to a unique range of advanced analytical techniques and equipment (ICP-MS, Laser Ablation Tomography, micro-computed Tomography) and world-class facilities with international standards.  You will receive structured training programmes at the University of Nottingham and Syngenta, and attend various training courses (e.g., IT, Career, Research Methods, Project Management) to develop your research and transferable skills. 

This PhD is supported by Syngenta Group that is a leading technology company for sustainable agricultural innovation. Syngenta’s mission is to offer large and small farming businesses the tools to address a wide range of challenges associated with crop productivity and health, to manage the effects of climate change and to help preserve biodiversity. The student will have the opportunities to visit and interact with different teams in the R&D environment at Syngenta. The PhD student will be introduced to the current paradigm to discover and optimize new agrochemicals, the so-called Design-Synthesis-Testing-Analysis (DSTA) cycles. Ad-hoc interactive sessions will be organized with different specialists (i.e. chemists, biology, computational experts) at the Syngenta labs. The PhD student will have the opportunity to present her/his projects to the Syngenta scientific community.

Award Start date: October 2023

Duration of Award: 4 years

Home and international students are welcome to apply for this opportunity. Funding is available for four years from late September 2023. The award covers tuition fee (£4,596) at the home rate plus an annual stipend which was (£17,668) for 2022. This is set by the Research Councils. Please note that successful international candidates will be put forward for a University Fees Difference Scholarship to cover the difference between the home and international fee.

To apply and check your eligibility, please click go to and you can find further information about how to apply to our programme.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to or 

Apply online here by noon on Tuesday 17th January 2023


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