Oli Ellingham

My PhD project, focusing on the diversity, distribution & diagnostics of the powdery mildew fungi, has just begun. So, I am currently getting to grips with the wide ranging literature and attempting to make a new life for myself at the University of Reading. Here I work around my fellow PhD students under supervisor Dr. Alastair Culham, who I can thank for successfully sourcing funding from both the RHS and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for this studentship. The project is co-supervised by Dr Beatrice Henricot at the Royal Horticultural Society, Wisley.

Since graduating from the University of Bristol in July, 2012 I have been working at the John Innes Centre, Norwich where I grew familiar with molecular techniques. Prior to the start of my PhD studentship in May I was able to travel for 10 weeks to South America. As well as seeing glorious sites I worked on two farms, in Colombia and Argentina.

Oliver identifying Erysiphales on apple tree in the UoR Harris Gardens
Oliver identifying Erysiphales on apple tree in the UoR Harris Gardens

Powdery mildew (Erysiphales, Ascomycota) is a fungus reliant upon its plant hosts to survive and thrive. With approximately 900 different species infecting almost 10,000 different species of plant it has global influence on important cereal crops, ornamental nurseries and our gardens. Further research into this host-pathogen relationship by inspecting infected plants and analysing DNA sequences could help to prevent the pathogen in the future. This project aims to develop a set of molecular markers to aid in quick and easy identification of the Powdery Mildews, which will help to increase awareness of the species most prevalent within Britain and potentially further afield.

Powdery mildew season around Britain begins soon and so I am researching and developing methods for its collection, identification, and analysis. This will take place around the Whiteknights Campus, where I also plan to record the phenologies of a target set of species, but also at Wisley Botanic Gardens. This flagship RHS site,  south-east of Reading, is where supervisor Béatrice Henricot is based, along with an abundance of other staff with specialised plant pathology knowledge. If I am successful in collection then it will be important to have lab-based hosts ready to be infected. Therefore I am also planning to begin growing and nurturing populations of plants in the university greenhouses. As I have worked for my father’s landscaping company since an early age I hope this will be a more straightforward aspect of the project.