Plant Nematology at Leeds: Lab members

Heads of lab

Professor Peter Urwin

BSc(Hons), Coventry Polytechnic 1989
PhD, University of Durham 1992

Prof. Urwin is a molecular plant nematologist with a core interest in plant/parasitic nematode interactions and strategic developments towards nematode control. Much of his group’s work is aimed at understanding the molecular basis of the plant-nematode interaction. Some projects focus on the host’s response to the nematode pathogen whilst others investigate the nematode proteins or “effectors” that mediate the interaction. Conversely, unique and interesting aspects of nematode biology can be the core of an investigation. The group’s fundamental work has been used to develop a number of transgenic defences that can be incorporated into different crops and are effective against a range of nematode species. This work has culminated in successful field trials of transgenic plants with GM nematode resistance in the UK and Africa.

Professor Howard Atkinson

BSc Zoology, University of Newcastle
PhD Pure Science, University of Newcastle

I founded the Plant Nematology lab. We research fundamental aspects of plant/nematode interactions using the knowledge we gain to design novel methods of control. I have been applying plant biotechnology to nematode control since this became a possibility. A particular interest is to adapt the technology to make it appropriate, biosafe and freely available to subsistence growers. We seek to eliminate the considerable contribution plant nematodes make to world food insecurity.

Postdoctoral Researchers


Dr Catherine Lilley

BSc Botany, University of Durham 1987
PhD, University of Durham 1991

After graduating with a degree in Botany I completed a PhD at the University of Durham and then joined the Plant Nematology Lab at the University of Leeds in 1994. During my time at Leeds I have been involved in a wide range of research projects with many collaborators and have witnessed the huge progress that has been made in the understanding of plant-nematode interactions and nematode genomics. From my earliest work to characterise proteinase genes of soybean cyst nematode through to the more recent genome sequencing projects for potato cyst nematode, I have always had a keen interest in the molecular aspects of the research. However, the varied nature of this job has also taken me from field trials of GM potatoes in the UK, via nematode problems of bananas on smallholder farms in Uganda to working with agribusiness in China. My current research projects span the application of biofumigation for nematode control and investigating the function of novel glutathione synthetase-like effectors of cyst nematodes. I am also actively involved in the current international effort to develop much-needed transformation systems for plant parasitic nematodes.


Dr Christopher Bell

BSc Biology, Sheffield Hallam University 2014

PhD Plant Nematology, University of Leeds 2018

I obtained a PhD from the Plant Nematology Laboratory in 2018 which focused on designing a molecular diagnostic for the quantitative field assessment of plant parasite nematodes on coffee. This project assisted in diagnosing the nematode burden of plantations that are vital for coffee production. Throughout my time in Leeds I have worked with several generaof nematodes to understand their interaction with the host, in particular through host root exudates. The majority of this has been based around the exudation of sugars from the root system and their chemoreception by the nematode which induces several behavioural and transcriptional changes. Current work consists of faunal analysis of field trials in Uganda and identifying novel effector protein-protein interactions with the host.


Postgraduate Researchers

Duqing Wu

Bachelor of Agricultural Science, Plant Protection, Huazhong Agricultural University, China, 2012.
Master of Agricultural Science, Plant Pathology, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China, 2015.

I joined the plant nematology lab at University of Leeds for a Ph.D under the supervision of Professor Urwin in 2015. My project mainly focuses on identification and characterization of a novel gene family in plant parasitic nematode Rotylenchulus reniformis. I am investigating the functional role of these genes in plant-nematode interactions and parasitism evolution by using bioinformatics, molecular biology, and biochemistry approach. This work is funded by the collaboration between the China Scholarship Council and University of Leeds.

Technical Staff

Jennie Hibbard

BSc Plant Biology, University of East Anglia 1995

I have been working in the Plant Nematology lab as a research technician since 1995. Over the years I have worked on a wide variety of projects including those looking at; feeding cell attenuation, disruption of chemoreception, the Globodera pallida sequencing project, cue dependent behaviour in plant parasitic nematodesand RNAi. The projects have allowed me to develop skills in a range of areas including plant transformation, tissue culture techniques, molecular biology, protein purification, greenhouse and field trials.

Fiona Moulton

I have been working as a research technician in the School of Biology since 2001 and I joined the Plant Nematology laboratory in 2006. I am responsible for the maintenance of several species of plant-parasitic nematode colonies vital to the research undertaken by our group. I am also in charge of the management of the seven DEFRA licensed glasshouses and associated work areas used by members our group. The rest of my time is spent providing technical support in the laboratory, carrying out a wide range of technical procedures, collecting data, training group members and doing what I can to ensure the day to day function of the laboratory runs smoothly.