PhD Studentship: Pathology and molecular systematics of novel and emerging pathogens relevant to expanding and legislating the macro-algal industry (ALGAL-PATH)
University of Exeter – College of Life and Environmental Science
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £14,296 per annum for 2016-17
Closes: 9th January 2017

Main supervisor: Dr John Love (University of Exeter), Dr Stephen Feist & Dr Claire Gachon (Cefas)

Due to rapid global expansion and intensification worldwide, pests and diseases are a recurrent emerging issue in seaweed (macroalgal) aquaculture, worth $6.4bn in 2014. In the UK, algal cultivation has potential not only as a source of high-value molecules, but also as an income diversifier for coastal communities, and to mitigate the eutrophication due to the planned intensification of fish and shellfish industry (Scottish targets: 30% and 85% increase, resp. by 2020). However, biosecurity measures normally deployed to protect farmed stock and wildlife (e.g. listed diseases, validated diagnostics, national surveillance, and reporting to Competent Authorities) are crucially absent from the seaweed aquaculture sector; ‘algae’ refers to a diversity of organisms, some of which are neither plant nor animal, so as a catch-all term falls between the terrestrial remit of UK APHA and the aquatic animal remit of Cefas FHI via the Aquatic Animal Health Directive 2006/88/EC. Key littoral and industrially attractive species such as the kelps Laminaria digitata and Saccharina latissima, are often infected by algal and fungal endophytes, but the impact of these infections on ecosystem services remains unknown. Direct, but limited sampling in UK aquaculture farms and wild populations through the NERC-funded GlobalSeaweed initiative revealed a high diversity of previously undescribed oomycetes closely related to species that cause major crop losses in Asia, associated with red algae. Despite these activities, knowledge of algal pathogens is scant and this lack severely undermines the sustainable development of the UK seaweed industry. This proposal will tackle that dearth of knowledge head-on by generating histology and pathology atlases, defining more clearly key existing and emergent macroalgal pathogens, and thereby setting the factual foundation for a longer-term formalization of algal biosecurity in national legislation. This project provides a unique opportunity to reinforce UK’s leadership in this area, and will address three key aims.

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