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Plant systemic immunity – imaging long distance signalling

Primary Supervisor: Professor Murray Grant, School of Life Sciences

Secondary supervisor: Professor Miriam Gifford

PhD project title: Plant systemic immunity – imaging long distance signalling

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

Plants deploy disease resistance gene (R) products not only to protect themselves against a diverse range of pathogens, but also to (like our immune system in response to the Covid vaccine) initiate a systemic immune response in distal tissues. This process establishes robust immunity which can last the growing season. Despite its importance, we know very little about the nature of the signalling molecules generated, translocated and decoded in the systemic responding tissue. A mechanistic understand of systemic immunity will offer enormous biotechnological potential to enhance crop yields and ensure food security.

As systemic immunity provides broad spectrum resistance, it is highly unlikely that a single signalling molecule (or two) – which has been the focus of past research in this area – can establish such extensive immunity.

This project takes a multidisciplinary approach to understand the signaling dynamics and identify the nature of the signaling molecules by deploying a bespoke selection of tools developed in the genetically amenable Arabidopsis thaliana- Pseudomonas syringae pathosystem.

Using unique reporter constructs exciting results implicate both jasmonate based plant hormone signalling and electrical signaling in activating systemic immunity. The project will not only study leaf-leaf signalling but explore the neglected communication conduit between leaf and roots.

The project will use a combination of whole plant and sub-cellular imaging, targeted metabolomics, transcriptomics, physiological and electrophysiological based experiments to understand the earliest events the lead to systemic acquired resistance. These integrated approaches will provide new knowledge to deploy systemic immunity effectively in the field.

The candidate will be exposed to cutting edge techniques and work at the forefront of plant systemic immune signaling. They will work in a well-supported lab with access to novel reporters and state-of-the-art analytical and imaging tools as well as receiving training in handling and interpreting large datasets, thus providing a solid platform for future career progression.


  1. Mobile signals in systemic acquired resistance. Kachroo A & Kachroo, P. (2020).
  2. Current Opinion in Plant Biology, 58:41–47

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Sustainable Agriculture and Food: Plant & Crop Science. Understanding the Rules of Life: Plant Science

      Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

      • Plant pathology – local infection and systemic immune assays.
      • Bioimaging – both whole plant (luciferase based) and sub-cellular (YFP & GFP)..
      • Electrophysiology – measuring surface electrical potentials generated during challenges in different signalling mutants.
      • Basic plant genetics and reverse genetics.
      • Metabolomics. Application of both targeted – hormones - and untargeted profiling on local and systemic responding leaves
      • Data analysis: metabolomics and transcriptomics

      Contact: Professor Murray Grant, University of Warwick