Welcome to the Denby Lab. We are interested in plant disease resistance and using systems and synthetic biology approaches to unravel how plants respond to pathogen infection, the regulatory networks underlying the defence response, and novel bio-control strategies. We also use systems biology and genomic/transcriptomics to enhance breeding of key traits in leafy vegetable crops – for the UK and for smallholder farmers in the Global South.

IMG_0577Lab members have biological and/or computational backgrounds and work together to solve key questions on how plants respond to changing environmental conditions, and how we can breed or engineer improved varieties of leafy vegetables – whether to enhance disease resistance, nutritional content, yield under low input agricultural systems, or adapt varieties for new growing systems. 

We are located at the University of York in the Department of Biology within the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP). 


We are currently advertising four PhD studentships in different aspects of our work.

1. An interdisciplinary project aligned to FixOurFood – a large-scale project co-creating regenerativecircle pea shoots food systems that optimise the health of people and the planet in an equitable manner. One of the FixOurFood interventions is a new indoor urban vertical farm, Grow It York, hosted at Spark:York. This PhD will investigate where are urban farms best located for health, social and environmental benefits, and how can they be designed to address inequalities across the UK?

Deadline Jan 23rd 2022


2. A project offered within the BBSRC White Rose Doctoral Training Programme – focusing on transcriptional regulatory networks in both pathogen and host. In a collaboration with Ville Friman we will be asking how does the fungal pathogen Botrytis cinerea regulate its virulence mechanisms and can we exploit network re-wiring for enhanced plant immunity?      Deadline for application is Jan 7th 2022


3. A second project within the BBSRC White Rose Doctoral Training programme – in collaboration withlettuce circle Daphne Ezer we will look at whether a light and immunity responsive network we have identified in Arabidopsis is conserved in greenhouse crops.  We will develop a mathematical model that explains the relationship between light frequency, light intensity, the time of day, immunity and yield-related traits and use this to predict (and test) whether specific lighting schedules can enhance immunity without negatively impacting growth.  Deadline Jan 7th 2022. 


amaranth4. A project led by Benjy Lichman and part of the NERC ACCE Doctoral Training programme – will investigate the evolution of chemical defences in plants. We will leverage long-read, independently assembled pan-genomes and analyse specialised metabolism to reveal general patterns and mechanisms of variation, and provide novel insight into evolutionary processes impacting the evolution of chemical diversity. Deadline Jan 14th 2022


  • We are always interested in hearing from graduates who are self-funded and wish to pursue a PhD.  Please also see Join Us for details of projects in my lab and funding opportunities.

Contact details

Prof. Katherine Denby, Department of Biology, University of York, Wentworth Way, York YO10 5DD, UK.

email: katherine.denby (at) york.ac.uk

+44 (0)1904 328760