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Eves-van den Akker Group: The plant immunity - and development-altering ‘effector toolbox’ of parasitic nematodes


Supervisor: Sebastian Eves-van den Akker (Plant Sciences)

This project aims to understand the 'tools' that globally economically important parasitic nematodes use to manipulate plant-immunity and sub-cellular architecture, by systematically exploring the recently uncovered inventory of one of their 'toolboxes'.

Plant-parasitic cyst nematodes have the remarkable abilities to alter plant-immunity and subcellular architecture in roots and leaves: within hours of infection the immune system is suppressed; over the coming days a single cell in the vascular cylinder is arrested at G2; the vacuole reduces in size and fragments, the nucleus enlarges, and the cytoplasm is enriched in sub-cellular organelles by extensive proliferation of the smooth endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, and plastids. The cell wall dissolves and the protoplast fuses with adjacent cells in an iterative manner to incorporate hundreds of cells into a large syncytium from which the nematode withdraws all external nutrition.

To achieve this manipulation, parasitic nematodes, like other plant pathogens, are equipped with a set of molecular 'tools' termed effectors. Until recently, the functions and even identities of most were unknown. We recently discovered a single promoter motif, termed the DOG box, that unifies almost all previously described dorsal gland effectors, we used this motif to catalogue previously unknown dorsal gland effectors, and in so doing we created a comprehensive roster of this 'toolbox'. Armed with an expanded roster of the dorsal gland 'toolbox', now is the right time to explore the biology underlying globally economically important plant-nematode interactions.

In your project, you will use comparative genomics to reconstruct the core subsets of these effector proteins to home in on the key players involved in parasitism. You will systematically test the function of core effectors in planta to identify which suppress plant-immunity and/or alter plant subcellular architecture. Finally, you will identify the molecular interactors of these core effectors to build an understanding of how they exert their function/s.

Taken together, this project can be tailored to fit your interests in 'wet' or 'dry' lab techniques, and will advance our understanding of the 'tools' that globally economically important parasitic nematodes use to manipulate plant-immunity and development, providing a platform for future foundational and translational research.


  • The genomic and transcriptomic bases of pathogenicity in the golden potato cyst nematode, Globodera rostochiensis. S. Eves-van den Akker*+ and D.R. Laetsch+, P. Thorpe+, C. J. Lilley+, E. G. J. Danchin, M. Da Rocha, C.Rancurel, E. Grenier, J. Montarry, N. E. Holroyd, J. A. Cotton, B. Mimee, M. Duceppe, I. Boyes, J. Lapalme, M. Esquibet, M. Sabeh, M. Rott, H. Overmars, A. Tomczak, G. Smant, V. Blok, S. Mantelin, P. J. A. Cock, W. Phillips, J. Marvin, L. M Jones, H. B. Yusup, P. E Urwin, M. Blaxter, J. T. Jones. (2016) – Genome biology 201617:124 DOI: 10.1186/s13059-016-0985-1




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