Dissecting mechanisms of plant innate immunity to insect pests

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Graduate Office


Insect herbivores cause significant losses to crop production either by direct damage or through the transmission of plant pathogens. Remarkably, more than 80% of the insect species are regarded as specialists with less than 10% feeding on plants in more than 3 families. Thus, most plants are resistant to most insect herbivores.

The Hogenhout laboratory has identified virulence proteins (effectors) from insect-transmitted bacteria that modulate plant defenses to insect herbivory. Transgenic plants that produce these effectors become extremely susceptible to insect species. In addition, the transgenic plants are colonized by insect herbivores that normally die on these plants. Thus, the effectors are likely to interfere with plant immune responses that regulate basal plant resistance to the majority of insect species.

The student will investigate the interactions of effectors with specific plant transcription factors that have a potential role in regulating plant innate immunity to insect pests. The student will work with an interdisciplinary team of researchers, and as such, will have the opportunity to develop expertise in plant genetics, plant development and immunity, plant-pathogen and plant-insect interactions, and molecular and biochemical analyses of protein-protein interactions.

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011216/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1654544 Studentship BB/M011216/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2019 Sylvain Capdevielle
Description New phytoplasma effectors that interact with plant transcription factors have been found. Work to better understand specificities of effector-target interactions has progressed.
Exploitation Route Too early to say (the award is still active)
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description Formal research collaboration with Abdullah Al-Sadi, Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman. 
Organisation Sultan Qaboos University
Department Department of Crop Sciences
Country Oman 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provided intellectual input into investigating an important pathogen of lime trees in Oman, and hosted Ali Al-Subhi, PhD student at Sultan Qaboos University, to conduct molecular research on the pathogen for 6 months in 2015/2016 and 3 months in 2017.
Collaborator Contribution Provided funding for research conducted by the visiting PhD student and hosted me to visit phytoplasma-infected lime orchards and vegetable farms in Oman.
Impact Co-authored scientific publications, including Al-Subhi et al., 2017. BMC Microbiol. 17: 221.
Start Year 2014
Description Formal research collaboration with Chih-Horng Kuo, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan 
Organisation Academia Sinica
Department Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology
Country Taiwan, Province of China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I provided intellectual input into the development of the research question, approaches and methodology. My team provided knowledge about the biology of the organisms, collected biological material, extracted DNA and generated raw reads of genome sequence data.
Collaborator Contribution The partner assembled the genome reads into contigs and annotated the genomes.
Impact Several co-authored publications, for example: Orlovskis et al., 2017. Ann Bot. 119: 869-884.
Start Year 2014
Description Formal research collaboration with Richard Immink, Wageningen University and Research Centre, The Netherlands 
Organisation University of Wageningen
Department Department of Plant Sciences
Country New Zealand 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We provided knowledge on phytoplasma virulence proteins that interfere with plant development and involved the Wageningen team into a interdisciplinary project proposal that received funding from HFSP.
Collaborator Contribution The Wageningen team provided expertise on plant transcription factors targeted by phytoplasma effectors and helped us with interpretation of the plant developmental phenotypes. They are co-investigators on our HFSP grant.
Impact We received funding for a HFSP research project. We co-published a paper: MacLean et al., 2014. PLoS Biol. 12(4):e1001835. We co-supervise postdoctoral researchers. We hold regular Skype meetings (in average once per 6 months) for the past 3 years.
Start Year 2014