Tara O’Neill

Tara O’Neill

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Tara O’Neill
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Start Year

2017 (Cohort 4)

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PhD Project
PhD Title
Endophytic entomopathogenic fungi in crop protection
Research Theme
Biodiversity and Ecology
Primary Supervisor

Alan Gange

Primary Institution
Secondary Supervisor

Viswambharan Sarasan

Secondary Institution
CASE Partner
Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI)
CASE Supervisor
Dr Belinda Luke

Insect herbivores cause considerable damage to crops and there is an urgent need for sustainable pest management. Pesticide resistance is a global problem, and finding alternative, natural control strategies is urgently required. Entomopathogenic fungi have shown promise in reducing pest insect populations but all commercial preparations are applied externally to plants, like insecticides, meaning that they are subject to environmental conditions and so often fail. It has been shown that these fungi can grow within host plants; however there is a lack of understanding regarding fungal infection and growth in the plant, as well as the mechanism of pathogenicity against insects. The project aims to investigate the colonisation of plat tissue by endophytic entomopathogenic fungi and the effects on insect pests across feeding guilds, including leaf chewers, sap suckers and root feeders. It will also investigate the effects on non-target insects, including pollinators and predators, providing information useful to agriculture and community ecology. The effects of fungal infection on a variety of pest and non-target insects will be examined through a series of laboratory and field trials. Interaction mechanisms will be studied, specifically considering changes to metabolite and proteome profiles within the host plant, while also characterising changes in the microbiome. While contributing to the ecological understanding of fungi-plant-insect interactions, which are currently poorly understood, the outcomes will be directly applicable to agriculture and improved integrated pest management. The project will further our knowledge of the functions of the plant microbiome, and how this can be manipulated to contribute to food security. It will create impact in terms of changing the way crops are protected and will influence environmental policy and food production.

Policy Impact
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