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.

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 genera of 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

Adam Casey

BSc(Hons) Biology, Liverpool John Moores University
MSc Plant Genetics and Crop Improvement, University of East Anglia  

I joined the Nematology lab in 2018 to study a PhD under Professor Urwin in collaboration with Nestlé. My project aims to uncover the metabolic and molecular characteristics of coffee that underpin tolerance and resistance to plant parasitic nematodes. I am also investigating the attraction of these nematodes to chemicals exuded by the roots of coffee plants its intercrops, and characterising the neurobiological pathways which drives this behaviour.


Ashley Hayes

MBiolSci, The University of Sheffield

I’m a PhD student within the plant nematology lab. I joined in 2018, after completing my MSc at The University of Sheffield. My project investigates how nematodes manipulate the plant secretory pathway. For this, I’m using fluorescent reporter constructs to track key components of the plant secretory pathway during cyst nematode feeding site formation. I also plan to study how nematode effector proteins, such as those which mimic the plant peptide hormones CLAVATA3/EMBRYO SURROUNDING REGION-RELATED (CLE) and C-TERMINALLY ENCODED PEPTIDE (CEP), use the plant secretory pathway to be translocated from the host’s cytoplasm to the apoplast.  


Ahmed Refaiy Hassan

BSc Agricultural Sciences, South Valley University, Egypt
MSc Agricultural Sciences, Cairo University, Egypt

I joined the plant nematology lab in July 2019 as a PhD student. My research project aims to study plant responses to a combination of drought stress and nematode infections, which may occur in field conditions and differ from plant responses to individual stress. Also, the project aims to transfer the work from model plants to agricultural crops that have an economic importance and participate in food security.


Megan Clarke

BSc (Hons) Biology with Industrial/Professional Experience, The University of Manchester 2018

Under the supervision of Professor Urwin, I am investigating the regulation of differential gene expression in plant parasitic nematodes in response to their hosts. I joined the plant nematology laboratory in 2019 and I am currently working to uncover some of the molecular mechanisms underpinning host preference. I am interested in determining which species of plant parasitic nematode display host-specific gene expression and identifying the complement of genes that are differentially expressed. In addition, I aim to characterise the components of root exudates responsible for differential expression. 

Emily Magkourilou

MSci in Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, 2019

I first joined the Plant Nematology lab in January 2020 to work as a Research Technician on a project led by Prof. Urwin and Prof. Field aiming to better understand the tripartite interaction of plants, plant-parasitic nematodes (PPN), and arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi (AMF), with a particular focus on resource allocation within the system. 

In October 2021, I started my BBSRC-funded PhD within the White Rose DTP looking to investigate the role of fungal networks in modulating plant symbioses with competing root symbionts, focusing again on PPN and AMF. I am planning on tracking resource allocation within the system but I would also like to better characterize the role of fungal networks in plant-plant signalling and plant defence responses. My project is under the supervision of Prof. Field (The University of Sheffield), Prof. Urwin (University of Leeds) and Prof. Daniell (The University of Sheffield). I am currently primarily based at The University of Sheffield but work in close collaboration with the Plant Nematology lab at the University of Leeds.

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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.

 Mirela Coke

Diploma Genetic Engineering in Agriculture, Banat University of Agricultural Sciences 1998
PhD, Banat University of Agricultural Sciences 2005

At Banat University I was involved in developing transgenic Romanian potato cultivars resistant to Colorado beetle. During my PhD I was awarded a Marie Curie fellowship at Newcastle University, where I worked on biotic and abiotic stress in potato. After my PhD I worked for 4 years at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen on developing new nanoparticle tagging of DNA molecules. I first joined the Plant Nematology lab in 2010, and was involved in a project functionally characterising several novel pathogenity genes in the potato nematode, Globodera pallida. After a career break, I returned to the lab in 2019 to work on a project aiming to develop low toxicity, low enviromental impact integrated strategies for the control of plant and animal parasitic nematodes targeting MOD-1 receptor, a serotonin gated chloride channel.