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Understanding and engineering virus resistance in plants

Primary Supervisor: Professor John Walsh, School of Life Sciences

Secondary supervisor: Dr Graham Teakle and Dr Dieter Hackenberg

PhD project title: Understanding and engineering virus resistance in plants

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

Plant viruses are responsible for approximately half of the emerging plant diseases worlwide and cause severe yield losses in commercial crops. Climate change and the withdrawal of insecticide active ingredients will exacerbate plant virus disease problems in the future. Plant resistance is the most environmentally friendly, energy efficient and promising approach to virus control.

Virus resistance is often achieved by the intrinsic plant pathogen defence system. Alternatively, plant resistance can also be mediated by the loss, deletion or mutation of plant host factors essential for viruses to complete their life cycle. Virus infections depend on the interaction of viral factors with plant host proteins. Host factors are often hijacked by the virus in the course of the infection (e.g. proteins of the translation initiation machinery) to enable virus protein translation. Virus resistance based on plant host factors often confers strong and potentially durable broad-spectrum resistance.

The aim of this project is to identify novel resistance genes to Turnip mosaic virus (TuMV), one of the most devastating viruses in commercial brassica crops (oilseed rape and vegetable brassicas). The project will focus on the fine-mapping of TuMV resistance QTLs in brassica. Potential candidate resistance genes will be engineered in brassica crop plants using CRISPR technology to identify their role during virus infection. A second objective of this project is to investigate the molecular specificity/interaction of host factors and how the virus can access these factors during infection. The project focusses on the spatial expression, sub-cellular localisation of host factors and their dynamics during virus infection. Understanding these is crucial in order to assess the durability of existing virus resistances and thereby allow reliable prediction of the risks of resistance breaking by the virus in the future.


  1. Nellist et al., (2014) Multiple copies of eukaryotic translation initiation factors in Brassica rapa facilitate redundancy, enabling diversification through variation in splicing and broad-spectrum virus resistance. The Plant Journal 77, 261–268
  2. Jenner et al., (2010) Turnip mosaic virus (TuMV) is able to use alleles of both eIF4E and eIF(iso)4E from multiple loci of the diploid Brassica rapa. Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions 23 (11), 1498–1505
  3. Li et al., (2019) TuMV management for brassica crops through host resistance: retrospect and prospects. Plant Pathology 68, 1035-1044

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

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • Plant transformation
  • CRISPR/CAS9 gene editing
  • Virus detection via enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and RT-PCR
  • QTL analysis
  • Sub-cellular localisation of plant proteins tagged with fluorescence proteins
  • Confocal microscopy

Contact: Dr Dieter Hackenberg, University of Warwick