King’s Fellow Dr Sebastian Eves-van den Akker has been awarded a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Responsive Mode grant, worth half a million pounds, for his work on plant-parasitic nematodes that threaten potato crops.
Plant-parasitic nematodes are microscopic worms that destroy living plant tissue. The damage they do costs global agriculture over $100 billion a year, partly because every significant crop has at least one specific plant-parasitic nematode species to attack it. The UK, for example, is at threat from potato cyst nematodes which cause over £50 million in damage every year. Sebastian and his team's research has the potential to have a major impact on global agriculture and our ability to tackle this threat.
Discussing his work, Sebastian said:
"In this proposal we will focus our efforts on a fascinating family of genes in the parasite, called “HYPs”. HYP genes are unusual in that, to the best of our knowledge, there is no known genetic mechanism that can account for either the hyper-variable domain re-organisations between different generations of nematodes, or the enormous gene copy number variation between nematodes of the same generation. Juxtaposed to this variability, successful parasites always have at least one HYP gene, and all HYP genes encode a domain that has remained almost unchanged for approximately 30 million years of evolution. Given that we know these genes are important to the parasite when it causes disease, understanding the juxtaposition of variability and stability in the HYP genes is academically and strategically high-value."
In addition to this prize, Sebastian has also been awarded the prestigious 2018 New Lecturer Award from the Rank Prize Fund. These awards follow on from a 5-year David Phillip’s Fellowship, awarded by the BBSRC in 2017 for his work on these plant parasites, to tackle the threat nematodes pose to global agriculture.