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Engineering plants with increased disease resistance

Principal Supervisor: Dr Vardis Ntoukakis, School of Life Sciences

Co-supervisor: Professor Murray Grant

PhD project title: Engineering plants with increased disease resistance

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

The field of plant-microbe interactions has made impressive progress over the last 20 years, revealing the two-step basic architecture of plant immune system. Genetic and yeast two-hybrid screens have been instrumental in the discovery of numerous extracellular and intracellular immune receptors. Despite our advances in the identification of immune receptors, with high potential for agricultural use, an apparent gap exists in our understanding of how activation of immune receptors leads to functional plant immunity. The focus of this proposal is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms bridging the gap between activated receptors and downstream cascades, a vital step into engineering plants with durable resistance. As a continuation of our previous work with the tomato Prf/Pto resistance complex we purified the complex from tomato and the model plant Nicotiana benthamiana and characterized its composition by mass spectrometry. Our proteomic analysis identified 14-3-3 proteins and MAPKKKa as part of the Prf/Pto resistance complex. This is the first time that MAPKKKs are shown to be part of a resistance complex and reveals a specific molecular mechanism bridging the gap between activated NB-LRR proteins and downstream signaling. In this PhD proposal, we will exploit this knowledge in an effort to engeneer synthetic receptors that can work across different crop plants.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Food Security

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • CRISPR gene editing
  • Mass spectrometry
  • RNA-seq and generation of GM crops

Contact: Dr Vardis Ntoukakis, University of Warwick