Heather Ruscoe

Project title: Rhizosphere bacteria promote sustainable crop growth.

 Supervisors: Prof Penny Hirsch and Dr Tim Mauchline (Rothamsted Research)
Prof Ian Dodd (The University of Lancaster)

Where based: Rothamsted Research

Contact links:


Background: I’m currently based at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden and will be for the majority of my project, with the potential of carrying out some laboratory work at The University of Lancaster. Before embarking on a PhD, I spent the last year working as a Microbiologist at Astra Zeneca. Previous to this I gained my MSc in Microbiology and Immunology at The University of Nottingham and my BSc in Biology at Manchester Metropolitan University. In between studying for my BSc and MSc I completed an internship as an Assistant Microbiologist at T.E.S.T Ltd.

Project overview: My project focuses on the study of Plant Growth Promoting Rhizobacteria (PGPR), which are microorganisms naturally present in rhizosphere soil and have been shown to have a close relationship to both plant roots and other members of the rhizosphere ecosystem. PGPR are great microbial resources that are well known in sustainable agricultural practices for the roles they can play in promoting crop growth and health. A good model example of a PGPR that can have numerous beneficial effects on its associated crop is Pseudomonas fluorescens. Many P. fluorescens strains have a diverse array of beneficial genes that confer an advantage to the associated crop with traits including the enhancement of soil nutrient availability and resilience against both biotic and abiotic stresses.

Despite the clear benefits of a plant’s relationship with PGPR, inefficiencies in the application of these bacteria remain prominent, which is mostly attributed to a lack in understanding of bacterial genetic functions and the complex interactions occurring within the soil ecosystem. My project therefore aims to firstly isolate a genetically diverse culture collection of P. fluorescens strains and to determine the extent to which particular genes associated with beneficial isolates can predict effects that benefit the plant. In addition to this, attempts will be made to identify strains and other competitive species sharing the rhizosphere that may either intensify or inhibit known beneficial traits. Such information will provide useful guidance for the creation of synthetic communities containing harmonious bacterial strains that offer diverse beneficial characteristics. The purpose of this is to find ideal bacterial candidates to optimise the use of microbial inoculants in enhancing crop production, with the hope of aiding a move towards a more manageable sustainable agricultural system.