My research interests centre around plant-microbe interactions with a predominate focus on host responses to pathogenic bacteria. We also study the mechanisms underpinning biocontrol and plant growth promotion conferred by beneficial fungi and have interest in applying our general expertise to emerging tree diseases.
We deploy interdisciplinary approaches such as real time imaging, physiology, reverse genetics, a range of "omics" techniques (including untargeted metabolomics) and network inference modelling to study the dynamics and molecular basis of three fundamental outcomes of plant-pathogen interactions; suppression of defence, gene-for-gene resistance and the early events involved in propagating systemic immunity.
Notable contributions to the field include the first map-based cloning of a dual recognition resistance gene, RPM1; the first evolutionary study of an R gene; the first real time measurement of in planta cytosolic calcium changes during a resistance response; the first functional characterisation of an evolutionarily conserved plant inhibitor of apoptosis; the first description on how pathogen effector proteins modulate defence networks. More recently we have studied phytohormone cross talk in moulding the outcome of plant defences responses. We are particularly interested in exploring; (i) the key role ABA plays in hijacking plant defence and (ii) an unexpected contribution of jasmonates and auxin in systemic immunity. We are currently using synthetic biology approaches to re-wire these pathways thus interfering with pathogen virulence strategies. A more recent discovery that the chloroplast is a key player in orchestrating effective innate immune responses and is targeted by pathogen effectors mechanistically links disease with yield loss.
A remarkable 40% of the proteome of the saprophytic fungus Trichoderma hamatum is unique compared to other Trichoderma spp. Using a combination of metabolomic and transcriptomic informed targeted mutagenesis, we are studying whether this additional genetic material encodes novel chemistries that contribute to T. hamatum's remarkable plant growth promotion and biocontrol activities.