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Dr Lida Derevnina and Dr Sebastian Eves-van den Akker


Importance of Research

One of the principal challenges in plant breeding is increasing plant resistance to biotic stresses. Pathogens and pests threaten global food security by limiting crop production. To fend off invading organisms, plants have evolved complex immune systems. Intracellular nucleotide-binding leucine rich repeat (NLR) proteins are major components of the plant immune system. NLRs respond to pathogen secreted molecules, termed effectors, and initiate a potent broad-spectrum immune response. Understanding the dynamic and complex interactions that occur between plants and pathogens and the molecular mechanisms that underpin these interactions, will help drive the development of sustainable solutions for disease resistance management.


Project Summary

Plants have an effective innate immune system that they use to fend off invading organisms. To cause disease, plant pathogens and pests secrete effectors to suppress the plant immune system and to manipulate physiological functions in the plant to support their proliferation. Effectors, therefore, highlight key points of vulnerability in the plant immune system and can be used as “probes” to discover and characterize components and other cellular functions that play important roles during plant-pathogen interactions. Identifying effector targets and determining the mechanisms by which these effectors suppress the plant immune system will allow us to generate fundamental knowledge that can be leveraged to guide new approaches for disease resistance breeding. We previously identified two potato cyst nematode (PCN, Globodera rostochiensis) effectors as robust suppressors of NLR mediated immunity1. In this project, the candidate will identify the molecular interactors, decrypt the biochemical activities, and determine the mechanism by which these two PCN effectors suppress immunity.


What will the successful application do?

The candidate will:

1) use biochemical and proteomic assays to identify effector suppressor targets;

2) use a combination of reverse genetic and complementation assays to confirm the role of the interactors in effector function and host immunity; and

3) define the molecular and structural determinants that underpin the function of these effectors as suppressors of immunity. 


Training Provided 

The student will receive hands-on training and gain expertise in a range of standard molecular biology techniques, mass spectrometry, biochemistry and conduct in planta assays.

The student will be located at the Crop Science Centre, a brand-new research institute and a joint initiative between the University of Cambridge and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany that aims to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable agriculture.