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Graduate Centre for International Agriculture


May 2019


We are delighted to invite candidates to apply for the second round of Nottingham-Rothamsted Future Food Beacon Studentships in International Agricultural Development. This scheme is jointly funded through the University of Nottingham and the Lawes Agricultural Trust. 

We are supporting five four-year PhD studentships. Successful applicants will receive full international tuition fees and a UK-benchmarked stipend. Details of each project can be found below.

To apply, please send a CV (maximum two sides of A4) and cover letter (maximum one side of A4) to the primary supervisor. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis. Please direct informal enquiries to the lead supervisor and copy all correspondence to

Interviews will be held via Skype in mid-late June 2019; details of interview criteria will be provided to candidates after shortlisting is completed.

Successful applicants will subsequently need to meet the requirements for postgraduate research study at the University of Nottingham, via the online application portal which can be found here.

Please direct informal enquiries to

Tempr: Developing reproductive resilience to heat stress in rice. Supervisors: Prof Zoe Wilson, Dr Sigrid Heuer

Flower development and seed set is critical for high-yielding crops. Pollen formation is extremely sensitive to temperature stress, resulting in male sterility and seed-set failure. Understanding how plants cope with heat stress during reproduction offers opportunities to generate temperature tolerance. The studentship will generate novel germplasm for rice reproductive heat resilience and understanding of the molecular mechanisms delivering this resilience. This will be carried out in collaboration between the Wilson and Heuer groups who are experts in rice reproductive development. Specifically, by identification of heat resilience germplasm and characterisation of GWAS heat stress targets by CRISPR/Cas9 editing and expression analysis.



Risk assessment of sub-lethal insecticide exposure: new biomarkers and metrics in bees. Supervisors: Assoc Prof Reinhard Stoger, Dr Thomas G. Emyr Davies, Dr Jason Lim 

Are you interested in memory formation, flight-muscle performance and epigenetics? A 4-year PhD studentship is on offer to study these topics in a project with global relevance to sustainable agricultural ecosystem stability. Sub-lethal effects of certain insecticides on the bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) will be explored. Your training will cover fields of contemporary molecular biology, bioinformatics, basics of ecotoxicology and data analysis from insect flight simulators. Work will be carried out at the University of Nottingham with a six-month placement at Rothamsted Research. 


Understanding hypoxia tolerance mechanisms for rice improvement. Supervisors: Prof Frederica Theodoulou, Dr Darren Wells, Dr Shalabh Dixit

We have an exciting new opportunity to help develop novel rice varieties to feed the world. Rice is the staple food for half of the world’s population, however there is a pressing need to develop rice varieties with improved germination and seedling establishment under anaerobic conditions. This PhD project aims to develop and conduct detailed phenomic, transcriptomic and proteomic analyses to generate novel insight and identify new candidate genes that confer tolerance to anaerobic germination. In collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (Philippines), this information will be used to generate new resilient rice varieties via breeding and genome editing.



Development of novel plant-based vaccines for prevention of poultry viral disease: Newcastle disease. Supervisors: Assoc Prof Stephen Dunham, Dr Kostya Kanyuka

An exciting opportunity has arisen for a PhD to develop plant-based vaccines to protect against Newcastle disease, a virus disease of poultry with worldwide importance. The student will work at world-class facilities within Rothamsted Research and the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham. The supervisory team is experienced in the production of plant-expressed proteins and training will be provided in a broad range of molecular biology skills including protein expression and purification, development of ELISA and neutralization assays, tissue culture and virology.

Project description

Newcastle disease of poultry is caused by the negative-sense RNA virus avian paramyxovirus type-1. The virus can cause severe disease with high mortality and as such is on the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) list of notifiable diseases. Epidemics occur regularly, despite widespread use of vaccines, having significant impact on poultry production worldwide. Prevention of disease remains challenging due to the presence of viral reservoirs in wild birds and the ability of the virus to mutate and evade vaccine-induced immune responses. Further development is needed to produce more effective vaccines. An ideal vaccine would protect against a broad range of virus strains or be rapidly antigen matched to emerging strains, be produced at a low cost and easy to administer in food or water. Plant-based vaccines are able to fulfil such criteria.

This project aims to develop improved vaccines for ND using transient expression in plants, with the ultimate aim of developing vaccines that can be delivered by the oral route. The specific objectives of the project are:

1. Construction of expression vectors for viral proteins. Nucleotide and protein alignments of Newcastle disease virus surface proteins will be used to select sequences for plant expression followed by cloning into plant expression vectors.

2. Optimisation of plant expression in Nicotiana benthamiana. Expression constructs will be used to express protein in N. benthamiana following agroinfiltration with Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Expressed proteins will then be purified and characterised before proceeding to antigenic analysis (3) and immunisation of chickens (4).

3. Antigenic recognition of recombinant proteins. ELISAs will be developed to detect antibody binding using a panel of sera from infected or vaccinated birds.

4. Immunisation of chickens with recombinant proteins. Recombinant proteins will be used to immunise chickens. The reactivity of serum antibodies with a panel of viruses will be determined in haemagglutination inhibition (HI) and virus neutralization tests (VNT). This will give insight into their protective ability and potential for further development as poultry vaccines.

The student will be based at Rothamsted Research Institute for approximately the first two years of the project before moving to the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science for the next two years. The student will be fully supported during their studentship to develop both project specific skills and important transferable skills to equip them for a range of future careers.

Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact either or for further information.



Exploring diversity in the grain structure, composition and functionality of pearl millet. Supervisors: Dr Rahul Bhosale, Dr Till Pellny

 The PhD student will explore the genetic diversity of grain structure, composition and functionality in Pearl Millet towards understanding the impact this has on food and beverage processing and nutritional quality.

The studentship will involve (i) phenotyping of grain structure of >200 Pearl Millet lines, developed in Senegal, using a new platform termed ‘Anatomics’ that involves Laser Ablation Tomography and hyper-spectral imaging (ii) extraction of quantitative data about key seed anatomical traits (e.g. endosperm structure) for processing using deep-learning based image analysis software (iii) determination of composition and spatial distribution of major grain components within the grain using ICP-MS and staining methods (preliminary results highlighted in the figure below) (iv) data integration from the structure and composition analysis and evaluation of key parameters in food and beverage processing applications.

The student will receive training in the state-of-the-art methods of plant structure analysis, the use of machine learning algorithms and biochemical and genetic techniques. This studentship will deliver promising lines and DNA markers/genes associated with desirable seed composition, functional and structural traits for use in crop improvement programmes and novel applications for pearl millet breeders, producers and processors in West Africa.

This PhD will be jointly based in the School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham and Rothamsted Research, Harpenden with the possibility of field work in Senegal. For further details, please contact Dr Rahul Bhosale: and Dr. Till Pellny:




The current fellowship round has now closed. A new round will open later in 2019. 

            UoN_Primary_Logo_CMYK            Rothamsted logo 2


rice wilsonDeveloping reproductive resilience to heat stress in rice.


bees ss

Risk assessment of sub-lethal insecticide exposure.


hypoxia riceUnderstanding hypoxia tolerance mechanisms for rice improvement.

  Plant Expression rothamsted ss4Development of novel plant-based vaccines for prevention of poultry viral disease.





Understanding hypoxia tolerance mechanisms for rice improvement.

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