Research Associate: Environmental microbiologist to examine pathogen suppression in wheat through microbiome manipulation

Imperial College London

Job description
Job summary

The Bell Lab at the Silwood Park Campus of Imperial College London is developing soil microbiomes that protect wheat from the devastating take-all disease caused by the fungus, Gaeumannomyces tritci. The team will take UK-wide soil samples to conduct soil microbiome engineering via directed artificial selection and run field-based trials. This advert is looking for a team member to conduct field sampling of soil microbial communities from sites across the UK. This project is a multi-disciplinary collaboration with the Waring , Pawar , Ransome , and Graystock labs.

Here we are seeking an environmental microbiologist to lead surveys of UK farms and field experiments. The main aim of the project would be to identify biotic and abiotic correlates of G tritci prevalence. We are particularly interested in identifying which components of the soil microbiome may hinder the growth and transmission of G tritci, and the degree to which the impact of microbial taxa on G tritci depend on the environmental context. Experience in surveying microbial communities in soil and measuring soil properties would be key requirements.

The successful applicant would join a team of 4 other postdoctoral researchers, two research technicians, and many post-graduate students in developing methods that use soil microbiomes to suppress G tritci. The project has two overarching goals: 1) to develop a lab-to-field pipeline for microbiome optimization in arable soils, focusing specifically on suppression of the take-all fungus, Gaeumannomyces tritci, in the wheat rhizosphere; and 2) to advance our fundamental understanding of microbial community dynamics in complex environments.

The project will play a central role in laying the groundwork for linked experimental studies, which manipulate microbial communities directly in a series of glasshouse and field experiments. This project would supply soil samples for these linked experimental studies and identify communities or taxa that require closer investigation.

Duties and responsibilities

Your primary task will be to design and carry out surveys of microbial communities and of G tritci in the field. Field sites will encompass wheat farms and field experiments, so the project would involve interacting with wheat growers and scientists. The applicant should have experience measuring soil conditions. Microbial communities will be measured using omics approaches (metabarcoding and metagenomics) so experience with DNA extraction, library preparation, and relevant bioinformatics pipelines would be required. G tritci will be monitored using qPCR so experience with qPCR methods would be an asset.

You will be assisted in this effort by a team of four PDRAs, post-graduate students, and technicians, who will be engaged in the laboratory optimisation of the disease-suppressing inoculum, molecular and culture-based studies of microbial physiology, and computational modelling to understand and predict the dynamics of microbial communities. By working closely together, this team has the potential to significantly advance our capacity to manage complex microbiomes to improve the sustainability of agriculture. You will therefore be expected to interact frequently with your colleagues in the laboratory, in the field, and through regular group meetings. You will also have the opportunity to supervise of undergraduate and post-graduate student projects. Finally, you will be provided the resources to advance your own career along your desired path, through mentorship, professional development opportunities, and opportunities to develop collaborations that extend beyond the core group, including with Rothamsted Research and CABI .   

You will be expected to communicate the findings of your research through conference presentations and scientific publications. Additionally, you will have the opportunity to connect directly with farmers and other local stakeholders who are collaborating with our research group.

Essential requirements

Essential criteria:

  • Hold a PhD (or equivalent) in environmental microbiologyor related fieldor a closely related discipline
  • A strong background in environmental microbiology
  • Excellent scientific communication skills, as evidenced by presentations at scientific conferences and publications in peer-reviewed journals
  • Evidence of effective collaborative work in a team environment
  • Experience with the basics of experimental design and statistical analysis (the latter in the R programming environment)
  • Demonstrated research experience in at least two of the following areas (no candidate is expected to have expertise in all of them):
    • Agronomy
    • Plant-fungal interactions
    • Plant pathology
    • Plant physiology
    • Soil biogeochemistry
    • Soil microbial ecology
  • The capacity to conduct fieldwork under adverse conditions (hot, rainy, buggy, etc.) – note that all fieldwork for this experiment will take place in the UK
  • Experience with the management/organisation of large datasets
  • A valid driver’s licence (for traveling to/from field sites)
  • Experience working with pipelines for the analysis of microbiome data (e.g. QIIME2)

Desirable criteria:

  • Experience working on experiments with complex designs, e.g. split-split-plot experiments, in a field setting
  • Experience with either process-based or numeric simulation modelling
  • Experience working directly with local stakeholders with an interest in land management, e.g. farmers, foresters

Further information

*Candidates who have not yet been officially awarded their PhD will be appointed as Research Assistant within the salary range £40,694 – £43,888 per annum.

Please note this position is available full time, fixed term for 2 years. 

Applicants should provide a CV and a cover letter (two pages maximum) explaining their qualifications for the role.

Long-listed candidates will be contacted to complete a Belbin Profile (a free login will be provided) and a short ‘challenge question’ directly relevant to the role. Please note this is a team activity that will help with outlining development opportunities it won’t be a decision making tool.

Should you require any further details on the role please contact Tom Bell, [email protected] with ‘Green Microbiome PDRA’ in the subject line

The College is currently trialling a Work Location Framework. Hybrid working may be considered for this role and the role holder may be expected to work 60% or more of their time onsite, with 40% the minimum time spent onsite. The opportunity for hybrid working will be discussed at interview.

The College is a proud signatory to the San-Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA),which means that in hiring and promotion decisions, we evaluate applicants on the quality of their work, not the journal impact factor where it is published. For more information, see

The College believes that the use of animals in research is vital to improve human and animal health and welfare. Animals may only be used in research programmes where their use is shown to be necessary for developing new treatments and making medical advances. Imperial is committed to ensuring that, in cases where this research is deemed essential, all animals in the College’s care are treated with full respect, and that all staff involved with this work show due consideration at every level. /

We are committed to equality of opportunity, to eliminating discrimination and to creating an inclusive working environment for all. We therefore encourage candidates to apply irrespective of age, disability, marriage or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion and belief, gender reassignment, sex, or sexual orientation. We are an Athena SWAN Silver Award winner, a Disability Confident Leader and a Stonewall Diversity Champion.


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