Plants are constantly exposed to insects and microbes in nature. Hostile or benign in outcome, microbial and pest interactions with plants rely on a molecular dialogue between partners. For understanding the molecular basis of the interaction of different detrimental organisms (viruses, bacteria, fungi, sap-feeding insects) with their plant hosts.
A deeper understanding of these interactions during infection of plants will enable implementation of sustainable production practices to satisfy the demands made on modern agriculture (i.e. reduction in the use of agrochemicals and development of disease resistant crop varieties).
For understanding the diverse ways in which important fungal pathogens of cereals attack and colonise their hosts: rifsts, mildews, Fusarium spp, Septoria tritici and the devastating rice blast pathogen, Magnaporthe oryzae. For this whole genome analysis and functional studies to characterise effectors from cereal powdery mildew (Blumeria graminis), which manipulate host metabolism to establish infection, scientist are combining similar methods with transcriptomics, biochemistry and cell biology studies to explore how the rice blast fungus colonises different plant organs (leaves and/or roots) during infection. Scientist is investigating mycotoxins produced by the head blight pathogen (Fusarium species) during infection of wheat, which have significant implications for food safety.
Viruses develop a much more intimate intracellular relationship with their plant hosts while insect pests mostly use plants as a gross food source. Nevertheless, to multiply both types of organism depend upon specific molecular relationships with the plant. These relationships are being studied using molecular, genomic and genetic tools. In addition, a group of bacteria that are pathogens of both insects and plants are under study and the functions of effector proteins secreted during plant and insect infection are being characterized.