Modifying Plant Sterol Metabolism to Combat Insect Pests for Crop Protection

A novel biotechnological approach to protect agricultural crops from insect pests


We have been developing a novel biotechnological strategy to control insect pests for crop protection. This strategy is based on the principle that insects rely on converting host phytosterols to cholesterol which is essential for their growth and development.

New approaches are required to control insect pests which cause enormous global crop losses. Phytophagous insects are incapable of synthesizing cholesterol. Cholesterol is a precursor of the molting hormone. Insects rely on converting host phytosterols to cholesterol via a unique dealkylation pathway. There are stringent structural demands if the phytosterol is to be used as substrate for dealkylation, therefore some phytosterols cannot be utilised by insects.

This important pest-host interaction provides a unique platform from which to explore the opportunity for a new insect pest control strategy.

As part of this project the successful PhD application will undertake:

  • Molecular analysis /Characterization of transgenic canola expressing sterol modifying genes
  • Plant growth & development studies of transgenic canola
  • Sterol extraction & analysis of transgenic canola plant
  • Insect Feeding studies of Transgenic Canola

For more background information see the suggested readings below.

Suggested readings

Two men in a corn field holding a net Green insect on a leaf Transgenic canola

Research team leaders: Professor Jacqueline Batley & Dr. Jing LI

Prof Jacqueline Batley - I have expertise in plant molecular biology, genetics and genomics, gained from working in both industry and academia, here and in the UK. I am in the School of Biological Sciences at UWA and apply breakthrough biotechnological advances for crop improvement, through identification of genomic regions controlling traits, which are being translated to commercial outcomes for increasing global food security.

Dr Jing LI - I have undertaken research in world-class centres. My research includes dissecting mechanisms that underpin cellulose and callose biosynthesis; functionality studies of enzymes involved in starch metabolism; and recently focusing on strategies to improve plant quality, produce bio-energy and functional foods. My current project is working on modifying phytosterols to control insect pests for crop protection.

How to apply

Interested in becoming part of this project? Complete the following steps to submit your expression of interest:

Step 1 - Check criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

Requirements specific to this project include:

  • Applicants must have a Bachelor of Science/Biological Science with honours or equivalent
  • Basic Molecular Biology skills
  • Experience of plant transformation is desirable
  • Good analytical and problem solving skills
  • Basic computing skills.

Step 2 - Submit enquiry to research team leader

Step 3 - Lodge application

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, you should be in a position to proceed to the next step of the UWA application process: Lodge an application. Different application procedures apply to domestic and international students.


Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.