For more information on the projects, please contact Eva: email@example.com
Project 1: The evolution of host specificity in fungal plant pathogens
The fungus, Zymoseptoria tritici, is a significant agricultural pathogen that obligatorily infects wheat. In contrast, three of its close relatives Z. pseudotritici, Z. ardabiliae, and Z. brevis infect wild grass species, but not wheat. The genetic and/or molecular factors that govern this variation in host range are currently unknown. To help shed light on this topic, we propose a project that will use a combination of comparative genomics and molecular biology to dissect the evolution of these specific host-pathogen interactions. We hypothesise that variation in virulence gene complement and expression will underlie host range specificity. This variation will be determined using the genomic and transcriptomic resources available in the Stukenbrock Lab for each species. Computational predictions will be supported by downstream molecular analyses aimed at assessing the impact each candidate gene has on pathogenicity, and identifying the targets of their encoding proteins in their susceptible host.
Project 2: The evolution of host specificity in fungal plant pathogens
The Environmental Genomics Lab, led by Professor Eva Stukenbrock, studies the relationship between wheat and its fungal pathogen, Zymoseptoria tritici. Before inducing disease symptoms, Z. tritici undergoes an asymptomatic growth period through the wheat leaf. The molecular mechanisms of how Z. tritici is able to suppress the wheat immune system are not yet known. The Environmental Genomics Lab recently published a study demonstrating that Z. tritici is able to induce systemic immune suppression in wheat. This means that Z. tritici-induced immune suppression goes beyond the leaf infected with the fungus, into other leaves in the same host. This systemic immune suppression is sufficient to enable other non-wheat adapted pathogens to infect these leaves. We propose a project that will combine comparative evolutionary analyses with wet lab molecular techniques, to dissect how Z. tritici is able to induce systemic immune suppression. The project will begin by determining whether other closely related pathogens are able to induce a similar systemic immune suppression response in their hosts, and if so, what genomic features are shared among these pathogens. The project will also examine Z. tritici’s capacity to produce plant hormone mimics, notable cytokinin. The presence of genes with the potential to encode cytokinin producing proteins are known in Z. tritici, but remain unstudied. Therefore, we propose to examine whether the presence of these genes has a role in inducing systemic immune suppression.