Scheme: University Research Fellowship
Organisation: University of Warwick
Dates: Oct 2012-Sep 2017
Summary: A major challenge for the coming years is to provide food for an increasing number of people. Global demand for natural resources and the decreasing area of arable land are driving up the costs of energy and food. Therefore, it is of great importance to increase current crop production in a sustainable manner. Minimizing agricultural losses from pathogens will substantially increase crop yield and decrease the cost of food production.
During the last decades the field of plant pathology has made impressive progress revealing the basic architecture of the immune system. We now know that through evolution, plants have developed resistance genes encoding immune receptors that recognize pathogen-derived elicitor molecules to activate immunity. Currently our main strategy to combat diseases in field conditions is the deployment of resistance genes in crops. This resistance is often rapidly overcome in agriculture by evolving pathogen populations. However, our understanding of plant immunity is still in its infancy, and many important questions remain open.
A major part of the plants response to pathogens involves changes in gene expression. A key mechanism controlling gene expression is localized relaxation of the DNA through changes in the proteins that are bound to the DNA. These DNA conformational changes, or chromatin remodeling, allow genes to be rapidly expressed during pathogen attack.
In my laboratory we study how pathogen recognition by immune receptors leads to chromatin conformational changes and ultimately resistance to pathogens. Bridging the gap between pathogens perception and immune gene activation will be a major step towards engineering plant with durable resistance and increased crop yields.