How do good bacteria turn bad? Investigating the evolution of virulence in plant associated Streptomyces bacteria.


Streptomyces bacteria are best known for making specialised metabolites (natural products) with antibiotic activity, including more than 50% of the antibiotics used in medicine. However, their natural ecosystems are the soil, the rhizosphere (outside) and the endosphere (inside) of plant roots. The strains that enter and survive inside plant roots can be either scab-causing pathogens, which kill their hosts, or endophytes, which likely provide growth promoting benefits to the plant and protection against disease in exchange for food and housing.

We recently discovered that endophytes and pathogens are very closely related to each other but the pathogen genomes contain a mobile pathogenicity island which carries virulence genes that cause disease. Intriguingly, the endophytes can inhibit the growth of the pathogens on agar plates suggesting they may protect plants against scab-disease.

In this project you will explore the evolution of pathogenicity in Streptomyces bacteria, make endophyte strains which cannot acquire the pathogenicity island and determine if these endophytes can protect plants against pathogens. The ultimate goal of this work is to develop plant probiotic strains which can protect staple crops such as wheat against disease without the need for environmentally damaging agrochemicals.

You will split your time between the John Innes Centre (with Prof Matt Hutchings) and the Quadram Institute (with Prof Alison Mather). These institutes are world-leading centres of excellence in plant science, Streptomyces biology and genomics research and are both located on the Norwich Research Park. You will receive excellent, interdisciplinary training and use cutting edge techniques to investigate the interplay between Streptomyces endophytes and pathogens.


Prudence S, Newitt J, Murrell JC, Lehtovirta-Morley L and Hutchings MI (2021). Microbiome assembly in the UK Spring bread wheat Triticum aestivum var. Paragon. Env Microbiome 16:1-21.

Worsley SF, Macey M, Wilkinson B, Murrell JC and Hutchings MI (2021). Investigating the role of Arabidopsis thaliana root exudates in Streptomyces recruitment. Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences 8:541.

Worsley SF, Newitt J, Rassbach J, Batey S, Murrell JC, Wilkinson B and Hutchings MI (2020). Streptomyces endophytes promote host health and enhance growth across plant species. Appl. Env. Microbiol. 86:e01053-20.

Bloomfield, S.J., Duong, V.T., Tuyen, H.T., Campbell, J.I., Thomson, N.R., Parkhill, J., Phuc, H.L., Chau, T.T.H., Maskell, D.J., Perron, G.G., Ngoc, N.M., Vi, L.L., Adriaenssens, E.M., Baker, S. and Mather, A.E. (2022) Mobility of antimicrobial resistance across serovars and disease presentations in non-typhoidal Salmonella from animals and humans in Vietnam. Microb. Genom. doi: 1099/mgen.0.000798.

de Oliveira Martins, L., Bloomfield, S.J., Stoakes, E., Grant, A.J., Page, A.J. and Mather, A.E. (2022) Tatajuba – exploring the distribution of homopolymer tracts. NAR Genom. Bioinfo. doi: 10.1093/nargab/lqac003.