University of Dundee

China Scholarship Council PhD programme - Convergence of an aphid and oomycete virulence strategy on a negative regulator of plant immunity

The School of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee, joint with the China Scholarship Council (CSC), is proud to be able to offer a scholarship programme for postgraduate research students. The scholarship covers all tuition fees and research fees and provides living expenses and one return flight ticket to successful candidates. There are up to 5 scholarships of 4 years duration available.

Project Description

Agricultural food production needs to increase by 50% by 2050 to meet the unprecedented demands of the growing world population. Strategies aimed at reducing crop loss due to pathogen and pest damage must contribute to achieving this ambitious target. To prevent epidemics and increase food production, we need to understand the processes that enable infection and lead to devastating diseases. If we aspire to control pathogens in the field, we must first understand how they invade, suppress immunity, colonise and reproduce on their host(s). 

Pathogens and pests secrete proteins (effectors) to modify their host targets, disrupt immune signalling networks, and promote susceptibility. We recently discovered that effectors from the oomycete pathogen, Phytophthora capsici, and the major aphid pest, Myzus persicae target a key immune regulator in Nicotiana benthamiana and Arabidopsis (Liu et al., 2020). Critically, this immune regulator functions as an SUMO E3 Ligase, orchestrating diverse cellular processes required for growth, development and immunity.  

The convergence of effectors onto this host target offers the unique opportunity to answer this pertinent question: How do distinct biotic stress signals modify a common host target to disrupt immunity and potentially other plant biological processes?  

To address this question, we will undertake and extensive structure-function analyses approach to investigate how two distinct effectors target the E3 SUMO ligase and the downstream consequences of this targeting.  

The student will be provided with training in molecular biology approaches, protein-protein interaction assays, biochemistry, CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing in model plant species (Arabidopsis and Nicotiana benthamiana), and pathogen/insect virulence assays.  

The student will be given the opportunity to, within the framework of the project, develop and apply their own ideas and give direction to their research. The position will be based on the groups of Dr. E. Huitema (e.huitema@dundee.ac.uk)  and Dr. J. Bos (j.bos@dundee.ac.uk) at the University of Dundee.   

References 

S. Liu, C.J.G. Lenoir, T.M.M.M. Amaro, P.A. Rodriguez, E. Huitema, J.I.B. Bos.(2020) Virulence strategies of an insect herbivore and oomycete plant pathogen converge on host E3 SUMO ligase SIZ1 to suppress plant immunity. bioRxiv, doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.18.159178