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Re-engineering host defences responses

Primary Supervisor: Professor Murray Grant, School of Life Sciences

Secondary supervisor: Dr Vardis Ntoukakis

PhD project title: Re-engineering host defences responses

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline :

This project explores how plant pathogens have evolved robust mechanisms to overcome the complex plant immune system and cause disease. By understanding these mechanisms it is then possible to re-engineer plants prevent these defensive breaches. This project builds on a wealth tools, genetic, imaging, metabolomic, yeast-2-hybrid developed in the Arabidopsis thaliana- Pseudomonas syringae pathosystem to dissect these processes and develop mitigation strategies.

The project focusses on three core inter-related mechanisms; (i) hijacking plant hormone signalling, (ii) suppression of chloroplast immunity and (iii) our most recent discovery, deploying plant disease resistance components to suppress defences. The latter sounds counterinitiative but is potentially paradigm changing. Effectively the pathogen, first suppresses a key plant metabolic process to uncouple one arm of plant immunity – Pathogen Associated Molecular Pattern Immunity - then secondly, hijacks plant transcription networks to induce an enzymatic activity that competes for a key substrate the plant uses as the signal to activate the second phase of immunity – Effector Triggered Immunity.

Sound complicated? Yes it is, but it is also fascinating.

You will be an enthusiastic and inquisitive scientist with a thirst for discovery. You will join a small team using multidisciplinary approaches to dissect these integrated pathogen virulence mechanisms. The project will provide broad grounding in a range of techniques from plant pathology, genetics, biochemistry, bioimaging (both whole plant and confocal imaging), microbiology through to targeted metabolite profiling, providing a strong foundation for future career progression.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Sustainable Agriculture and Food: Plant and Crop Science

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • Imaging using novel reporter lines with unique temporal spatial induction profiles.
  • This involves - whole plant (luciferase) and subcellular (fluorescent reporters).
  • Molecular techniques including yeast 2-hybrid and generating transgenic plant reporter lines.
  • Targeted metabolomic profiling.
  • Biochemical analysis of core primary metabolic pathways perturbed by the pathogen
  • Molecular microbiology, generating effector deficient lines of Pseudomonas syringae

Contact: Professor Murray Grant, University of Warwick