Investigating the biology and importance of microbial symbiosis in the plant pest, Empoasca decipiens


The biology of many animals is partly defined by the microbes with which they interact – digestion, immunity, physiology and behaviour are all impacted by microbial partners. These symbioses are most intimate in insects, where the microbes are commonly passed between mother and progeny, in or on eggs. This vertical transmission makes the symbiont an integral – and in some cases essential - part of the host’s biology.

These symbioses are biologically interesting – but also have applied importance. Symbionts can alter important aspects of host biology – such as insect vector competence – and thus be deployed in the field to improve human and plant health. They may also represent ‘weak links’ in organisms that can be targeted – as in control of filarial infections through targeting their required symbiont.

In this project, we will characterize the symbiosis between a gammaproteobacterial symbiont – commonly called BEV – and hemipteran (plant sap-sucking) bugs. We aim to understand how the symbiont establishes in its insect host, how it impacts on host biology, and how it affects the interaction between insect and plant. Subsequently, we will address wider questions: Does the bacterium travel through the plant? Does it cause plant damage? Does it potentiate or inhibit the transmission of other pathogens from bug to plant?

You will work between the insect symbiosis group in Liverpool and the insect-plant interaction group in Newcastle. You’ll receive training in experimental analysis of insect-microbe and insect-plant interactions, molecular microbiology, molecular biology, statistical analysis, and genomics.

We welcome applications from students with an interest in entomology, microbiology, crop sciences. The most important attribute is the desire to be able to work with all aspects of the interaction – microbe, insect and plant.

Informal enquiries may be made to 


Applications should be made by emailing  with a CV and a covering letter, including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project/s and at the selected University. Applications not meeting these criteria will be rejected. We will also require electronic copies of your degree certificates and transcripts.

In addition to the CV and covering letter, please email a completed copy of the NLD BBSRC DTP Studentship Application Details Form (Word document) to , noting the additional details that are required for your application which are listed in this form. A blank copy of this form can be found at:


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

Studentships are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for 4 years. Funding will cover tuition fees at the UK rate only, a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) and stipend. We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.



1. (2020) Thermal sensitivity of the Spiroplasma-Drosophila hydei protective symbiosis: The best of climes, the worst of climes. Molecular Ecology in press.
2. (2020) Symbiont-mediated protection varies with wasp genotype in the Drosophila melanogaster–Spiroplasma interaction. Heredity 124: 592–602.
3. (2020) The Hypercomplex Genome of an Insect Reproductive Parasite Highlights the Importance of Lateral Gene Transfer in Symbiont Biology. MBio 11: e02590-19.
4. (2017) Torix group Rickettsia are widespread in Culicoides biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae), reach high frequency and carry unique genomic features. Environmental Microbiology, 19(10), 4238-4255.
5. (2020) Septoria Leaf Blotch and Reduced Nitrogen Availability Alter WRKY Transcription Factor Expression in a Codependent Manner. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21:11.
6. (2018) OXI1 kinase plays a key role in resistance of Arabidopsis towards aphids (Myzus persicae). Transgenic research 27:4. T
7. (2016) RNAi-mediated knockdown of the voltage gated sodium ion channel TcNav causes mortality in Tribolium castaneum. Scientific reports 6:1.
8. (2020) Induction of defence in cereals by 4-FPA suppresses insect pest populations and increases crop yields in the field. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) (
9. (2020) Does long-term Bt rice planting pose risks to spider communities and their capacity to control planthoppers? Plant Biotechnology Journal (doi: 10.1111/pbi.13358).
10. (2018) Resistance of rice to insect pests mediated by suppression of serotonin biosynthesis. Nature Plants, DOI: 10.1038/s41477-018-0152-7 (2018).