Rice, rocks and the parasitic weed Striga: Increasing sustainable cereal production and protection in sub-Saharan Africa

Supervisor

Prof. Julie Scholes, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

Co-supervisors

Prof. David Beerling, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences
Prof. Jurriaan Ton, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences
Dr Mathias Lorieux, International Center for Tropical Agriculture

Grantham Scholar

David Rapley

Silicon enhances the resistance of plants to biotic stresses, such as from fungal and bacterial pathogens, insect pests and nematodes. Very recently, one study has shown that silicon increases the resistance of plants a parasitic weed, although the mechanisms underlying this effect were not explored. Whilst the precise mechanisms underlying the effects of silicon on biotic stresses are not fully understood, there is increasing evidence that silicon enhances physical, biochemical and molecular defences in plants, including physical reinforcement of the cell wall, biochemical activation of defence-related enzymes and molecular upregulation of complex defence signalling pathways.

The parasitic weed Striga is major constraint to crop production in sub-Saharan Africa, which acts by infecting the roots of its hosts to steal nutrients and water. Applying silicon in the form of basalt rock dust or silicon fertilizers could provide a relatively low-cost means of enhancing resistance to these devastating parasites.

My PhD will determine whether enhanced uptake and accumulation of silicon by crop plants such as rice can increase its resistance to Striga. Following this, my research will determine the physical, biochemical and molecular mechanisms by which silicon may enhance defence against this parasite at different stages of its life cycle of infection.

My PhD is linked with the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation (LC3M). Check out their website here.