Name of scholarship/program
Engineering Sustainable Phosphorus-Rich Organic Fertilisers
The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures focuses on advancing the science of sustainability and connecting it with the policy debate around how humans can live in a more sustainable way.
Eligibility and other criteria
This projectﾒs goal is to enhance the nutritional value of organic fertilisers by releasing the phosphorus locked up in the form of phytate. Making better use of existing phosphorus in organic fertilisers is important as current reserves of rock phosphate come from an unsustainable source in Morocco. This affects global food security and has produced price volatility that disrupted agriculture around the world.
This project will study the progress of phytate phosphorus from the animal through the soil to the plant. The project will then identify where intervention can be implemented to release phosphorus from phytate using the commercial enzyme phytase. Addition of phytase to animal feed has resulted in significant increases in yield in poultry and pig production. It is the aim of this project to similarly improve yields of arable crops.
We are looking for a student with a biological sciences or chemical engineering background with adaptability to meet new and diverse challenges. The student undertaking this project will have to combine an active interest in soil and plant science with a keenness to convert their scientific findings into a real treatment that can be applied to the manufacture organic fertilisers.
Phosphate levels in soil often the limiting factor effecting plant growth. In agricultural systems, this is alleviated by the application of guano and rock phosphate fertilisers. This approach is unsustainable as global reserves of rock phosphate have been estimated to only represent a 150-year supply if used at current rates, generating volatility in the phosphate commodity market and thus driving food insecurity. An alternative to the exogenous application of phosphate fertilisers is urgently required.
Phytate (or inositol hexakisphosphate) is a major sink of phosphate in the soil. Phytate is recalcitrant in the soil due to its chemical structure that makes it inaccessible to plants intact. Instead, phytate is broken down in the rhizosphere, the zone of soil directly under the influence of the plant roots, liberating inorganic phosphate for uptake by plants. There is limited evidence that plants can breakdown phytate though the release of enzymes from its own roots.
Organic waste is a rich sustainable source of fertiliser but much phosphate is in the form of phytate. Monogastric animals (chickens, pigs, humans, rabbits, horses, etc.) cannot digest phytate. Currently, organic fertilisers containing phytate provides limited phosphorus that is available to plants. This is because under natural conditions soil bacterial and fungi would release the phosphorus from phytate but agricultural practices have denuded soils of the biological diversity required for the breakdown of phytate and transport of the resultant phosphorus to plants.
The enzyme phytase, capable of liberating phosphate from phytate, has become widespread in poultry and pig feed where it has substantially improved animal yields. Phytase is now produced on an industrial scale for this commercial application. This PhD project then aims to develop a phytase-based treatment for human waste and soils to liberate phosphate, currently locked in agricultural soils as phytate. The ultimate goal is to improve crop yields and the sustainability of arable agriculture around the world.
We are recruiting Scholars who will combine outstanding intellect with a strong commitment to public engagement, leadership and action. These ambitious individuals will complete interdisciplinary PhD research projects to help solve the challenges of sustainability. They will be supported by the Centre through a unique training programme, designed to equip them with the skills to become policy advocates and leaders in sustainability matters.
Keywords: Sustainability, Biocatalysis, Phytase, Phosphate, Enzyme, Phytate
Please note: in online application process please select ﾒstandard PhDﾒ not DTC option
Local and international students may apply
* February 28, 2015
Additional information, and important URL
This four year studentship will be fully funded at Home/EU or international rates. Support for travel and consumables (RTSG) will also be made available at standard rate of ﾣ2,563 per annum, with an additional one-off allowance of ﾣ1,000 for a computer in the first year. Students will receive an annual stipend of ﾣ16,913 in 2015/16, rising with inflation thereafter. Applications should be received and complete by 28th February 2015. http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/apply
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