Molecular Biology and Genomics of Pathogenic Fungi in Cereals
Agricultural production is essential to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and respond to the nutritional demands generated by global population growth. My goal is to advance our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of plant disease. Such fundamental knowledge will aid development of sustainable strategies to minimize losses in food production due to plant disease.
My research efforts are directed towards elucidating mechanisms of pathogenicity of fungi that pose a threat to important staple crops such as wheat, barley, maize and rice. I am primarily interested in the discovery of fungal effectors. These are molecules that allow the pathogen to manipulate the host by changing its metabolism and physiology and establish a compatible interaction with the plant. To acquire a comprehensive snapshot of the molecular events that dictate disease susceptibility or resistance, my laboratory seeks to integrate the characterization of fungal effectors and plant resistance-associated genes, as well as their respective regulatory networks. My research interests revolve around the following topics: biological diversity of effectors, their mechanisms of action, and the manner in which these mechanisms relate to the lifestyle of pathogenic fungi. Comparative genomics, transcriptomics, functional analyses of effector genes, as well as investigations of the regulatory mechanisms under which these effectors operate are important components of my research. Additionally, I aim to study the downstream signaling processes that take place in the plant, in absence or presence of effector recognition.
Currently, I am focusing on rust fungi, mainly Puccinia graminis, the causal agent of stem rust and a serious problem in the production of cereals and forage grasses. My colleagues and I are using Brachypodium distachyon as a model plant (non-host or pseudo-host) to study stem rust resistance. Brachypodium distachyon is a small grass with optimal biological characteristics and phylogenetic positioning to serve as an experimental model plant to study cereals. The variation in host-pathogen incompatibility in the stem rust Brachypodium pathosystem is an important resource for investigating the underlying genetic and molecular components of disease resistance. We have identified a number of candidate resistance-related genes to several isolates of Puccinia graminis, and we will soon perform functional characterization of those genes.
I have a strong commitment to teaching and mentoring, and hope that my leadership in an interdisciplinary research program will provide students with academic opportunities to learn about the role of molecular biology and genetics in agriculture.