Plant Nematology at Leeds: Lab members

Heads of lab

Professor Peter Urwin

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

I arrived in the Plant Nematology lab in 1993 to work on a project determining the utility of transgenically expressed proteinase inhibitors to protect plants against a range of parasitic nematode species. Following the success of the project subsequent work expanded the area culminating in successful field trials of transgenic potato plants expressing proteinase inhibitors. As an independent fellow, other projects have continued the biotechnological application of the work, including the use of IRES elements in plants and work on disruption of the chemoreceptive response of the J2 nematode. Curent projects in the laboratory range from the use of C. elegans as a model organism to using microarrays to investigate plant molecular response to nematode parasitism to exploration of aspects of plant ecology.

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

I joined the Plant Nematology Lab in 1994 and have since worked on a variety of projects. One area of interest has been the development of promoter constructs that allow high level expression of proteinase inhibitors in nematode feeding cells. Several of which have successfully provided resistance against both cyst and root knot nematodes. I have been instrumental in developing molecular characterisation of the target nematode proteinases for selection and improvement of proteinase inhibitors. Genes encoding a range of digestive enzymes have been cloned and evaluated as potential targets for novel defence strategies. Current work a USAID-funded project to develop transgenic, nematode resistant East African Highland banana for Uganda, where it is a staple food crop. And as an extension to our fundamental plant molecular biology research, microarrays are being used to study the transcriptomic responses of Arabidopsis lyrata ssp. petraea to temperature stress. This work is part of a collaborative NERC-funded project between the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield that aims to explore plant responses to abiotic stress at range margins.

Dr Hugh Roderick

BSc Biology, University of Leeds 2004
PhD Plant Sciences, University of Nottingham 2008

I joined the Plant Nematology lab in 2008 to work on a BBSRC/DFID SARID project to develop nematode resistant plantain. The project was a collaboration with Leena Tripathi at IITA Uganda and successfully developed and trialed nematode resistant plantains expressing a protease inhibitor and a chemodisruptive peptide. I also developed a novel tall crop monitoring technique based on hemispherical photography. My current work is funded by USAID to generate transgenic East African Highland banana with RNAi based nematode resistance, building on the work in this area I carried out during the SARID project.

Dr Laura Jones

BSc Zoology, University of Wales, Aberystwyth 2004
PhD Parasitology, Aberystwyth University 2008

I completed my PhD at Aberystwyth University which focused on the pathways and responses to oxidative stress in the model nematode C. elegans. My research has demonstrated developmentally and environmentally induced expression of enzymes involved in the detoxification of reactive oxygen species and in particular Phase II detoxification. One of these enzymes, Glutathione Transferase (GST)-1, I began to biochemically and functionally characterise. My short-term post-doctoral position at the University of Liverpool investigated the mechanisms of drug resistance in the parasitic flatworm Fasciola hepatica. I joined the Plant Nematology lab to work on a project to determine the primary responses of Globodera pallida to xenobiotic compounds utilising the model organism C. elegans. I am using a variety of approaches including microarray technology, RNAi, GFP reporter studies, heterologous expression and surface plasmon resonance. My work is funded by BBSRC and Syngenta.

Postgraduate Researchers

Grace Hoysted

BSc Biology, National University of Ireland, Galway 2011
MSc Plant Science and Plant Biotechnology, University of Leeds 2012

I am carrying out my PhD in Professor Urwin’s laboratory at the University of Leeds and in collaboration with Professor Hartley at the University of York.  This research project aims to elucidate plant-mediated interactions between above-ground pests and below-ground pathogens.  The project will investigate the potential crosstalk between molecular pathways in the plant following co-infection with two major crop pests; the potato cyst nematode, Globodera pallida and the peach-potato aphid Myzus periscae.  This project is funded by the BBSRC Doctoral Training Programme in Mechanistic Biology at the White Rose University Consortium.

Li Zhang

I joined the plant nematology lab in 2012 to work on cell wall composition of cyst nematode feeding structures, syncytia, induced within the host roots. The aim of this project is to gain a better understanding of the feeding cell structures and how they fulfil functional requirements during nematode parasitism. Using a set of monoclonal antibodies that bind specific cell wall polymers, I am developing a systematic view of the syncytial cell wall structure. Furthermore, using transcriptomal analysis, I am investigating the changes in gene expression that are associated with cell wall remodelling that occurs during syncytial development. This work is funded as part of a collaboration between the China Scholarship Council and the University of Leeds.

Refik Bozbuga

MSc European Master of Science in Nematology, University of Ghent, Belgium; University of Jaén, Spain; Bielefeld University, Germany; Wageningen University, The Netherlands 2011

I joined the plant nematology lab to study for a PhD in 2013. My PhD work mainly focuses on the in situ characterisation of the giant cell wall molecular architecture induced by root knot nematodes and investigating the role of certain cell wall genes in giant cell development and function. In addition, the role of plant cell wall modifying enzymes secreted by the nematode at different stages of parasitism is being investigated by RNAi knockdown of selected nematode transcripts. This work is funded by the University of Leeds and IDB Merit Scholarship Programme for High Technology.

Christopher Bell

I joined the Plant Nematology Laboratory in 2014 to study a PhD under Professor Urwin and in collaboration with Nestlé. My project aims to design a molecular diagnostic for rapid and quantitative field assessment of coffee nematodes. Meloidogyne and Pratylenchus species are associated with coffee plants in Brazil and Vietnam, respectively, where they cause losses of ~15%. The project will help to diagnose the associated nematode present in each sample and then investigate the tolerance limits and stress levels of key coffee cultivars towards each species observed. My work is funded by the BBSRC and Nestlé.


John Lennon

BSc Zoology, University of Leeds 2012
MSc Bioscience, University of Leeds 2014

I joined the plant nematology lab in 2014 to work on biofumigation. My project aims to investigate the use of biological soil amendments in pest management systems, specifically in relation to plant-parasitic nematodes of global economic importance: root knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.) and potato cyst nematodes (Globodera pallida). The compounds and mechanisms behind the efficacy of plants currently used as biofumigants will be investigated, as will the use of other plant species. I will also use a metagenomic approach to examine changes to the microbial community in the soil as biofumigant plants grow, in order to shed light on how these changes may play a part in the biofumigant effect.


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 technician in the Plant Nematology lab since 2007. My main responsibilities are maintaining live stocks of all the different nematodes that members of the lab work with. This involves looking after the various host plants both in tissue culture and in our greenhouses. I am also responsible for the greenhouses and along with our two other technicians I help with the day to day running of our lab.

Past Lab Members

Jessica Marvin

BA Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge 2009
PhD Nematology, University of Leeds 2015

Jess completed her PhD with the Plant Nematology Lab in 2015, having worked on the neurobiology of the potato cyst nematode, Globodera pallia. She currently works for Qiagen, based in Manchester.

Beverley Merry

HNC Medical Laboratory Science, Leeds Polytechnic 1982
ONC Medical laboratory Science, Kitson college of Technology 1980

After working for a decade with the Plant Nematology lab, Beverley is now a technician with Dr Katie Field's group at Leeds.