Thomas Irving

How plants maintain a good relationship with beneficial fungi

Project Description:

Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) are an ancient fungal linage that lives symbiotically with plant roots, providing them with phosphate and other important nutrients, in exchange for sugars the plant obtains from photosynthesis. I am attempting to further our understanding of how plant and fungus establish and regulate this relationship. This is important as current agricultural practice uses large amounts of fertiliser, driving harmful eutrophication of water courses, and requiring rock phosphates, the supply of which is rapidly running out. If we could increase the efficiency of the AM symbiosis with our crop plants, we would require less fertiliser, reducing costs to both farmer and environment.

I am doing this by randomly damaging the genes of our model plant, Barrel Medic, and looking for those plants which can no longer form the symbiosis. This tells us which genes are required to form the symbiosis, and I can then study these genes and work out how they function. Additionally, I am working with different species of AMF, to find those that form more robust symbioses.


I’m a North Yorkshire local, and did a BA in Natural Sciences at Emmanuel College, Cambridge before starting this PhD at York in 2013.