University of Exeter funding: Preparing for Fusarium Wilt of Bana

Preparing for Fusarium Wilt of Banana in Colombia (Biosciences) – PhD (Funded) Ref: 3542

About the award


Dr Daniel P. Bebber (Deparment of Biosciences, University of Exeter)
Dr David J. Studholme (Deparment of Biosciences, University of Exeter)

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, in partnership with Primafruit Ltd., is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2019 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,009 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. The student would be based in the Department of Biosciences in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Project Description:
Fusarium wilt or Panama Disease, caused by the fungal pathogen Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense, poses a potentially catastrophic threat to commercial banana production in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) due to the emergence of Tropical Race 4 (TR4) which has high virulence against the exported cultivar Cavendish. Efforts are underway globally to reduce disease dispersal and impact, via tissue culture variant selection, genetic modification, biosecurity measures, biological control and integrated pest management. While such measures offer hope, they must be commercially, economically and socially appropriate if they are to succeed.

This PhD project comprises an interdisciplinary analysis of the potential impact of TR4 arrival in Colombia and appropriate measures for its control. The project builds on ongoing work at the University of Exeter, in collaboration with UK and overseas collaborators. The project will have three components. We will investigate the influence of soil microbes on suppression of TR4 in pot trials and in the field. Research has shown that organic amendments like manure and biocontrol micro-organisms can enhance soil health and suppress TR4. The soil microbe community will be experimentally manipulated using additions of organic matter and available biocontrols. The effect of these amendments on infection will be tested on commercial Cavendish varieties, and the soil community monitored using DNA sequencing. Secondly, we will work in Colombia to establish larger field trials of organic soil amendments and biocontrols, to quantify responses of the soil microbiome and important organisms such as mycorrhizal fungi. Thirdly, we will conduct modelling studies in collaboration with commercial partners in the UK and Colombia, to determine the potential social and economic impact of TR4 and the costs of mitigation strategies. Specifically, we will estimate the availability of organic soil amendments, the financial costs of their application, and their effects on soil fertility and banana yield in the absence and presence of TR4. We will model possible scenarios for the arrival and spread of TR4 in Colombia, and estimate how different management responses would affect farmers financially. The models will help us to understand how TR4 could alter land use and agriculture in the region.

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £15,009 per year tax-free stipend.  Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.

The collaboration with the named project partner is subject to contract.  Please note full details of the project partner’s contribution and involvement with the project is still to be confirmed and may change during the course of contract negotiations.  Full details will be confirmed at offer stage.

Ayudar Award for Colombian PhD Student

The Ayudar Foundation, in collaboration with the University of Exeter, is funding a scholarship to cover the difference between the UK/EU tuition fees and the international tuition fees for a Colombian national to take up this PhD project. The Ayudar Award can only be held in conjunction with this PhD studentship.

International tuition fees for a successful Colombian applicant will be fully covered by the Ayudar Scholarship.

Please submit proof of Colombian nationality (passport scan) when submitting your PhD application for studentship ref 3542.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. Written and spoken Spanish are highly desirable, along with field experience in Latin America.
If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5  in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 
• CV
• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
• Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. If your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number.
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.
• Scan of passport

The closing date for applications is midnight on Friday 28th June 2019.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Streatham the week commencing Monday 8th July. Remote interviews by teleconference can be arranged.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730 or +44 (0)1392 725150.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor.


Application deadline:28th June 2019
Value:£15,009 per year for 4 years
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Support Office +44 (0)1392 722730 / 5150