A study of trees that are resistant to ash dieback found they had very low levels of chemicals which defend against insects.
Chloroplasts (red) associated with a nucleus. The nucleus appears green due to the fluorescent hydrogen peroxide sensing protein.
Plant Biology and Plant-Microbe Interactions
Our research focus
Our research in plant and algal biology includes metabolism and biochemistry (production and signalling roles of reactive oxygen species, photosynthesis, and evolution of algal thermotolerance), cell biology (changes in cell architecture supporting the plant immune system) and algal metabolism and biotechnology. Plant-pathogen interactions are a key strength, with researchers covering the rice blast fungus (Magnaporthe oryzae), corn smut (Ustilago maydis), septoria leaf blotch of wheat (Zymoseptoria tritici) and ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus). We focus on the cell biology of plant-fungal interactions, analysis of the genomes of emerging pathogens and the influence of climate change on pathogen spread. The group is well supported with controlled environment plant growth facilities and an extensive glasshouse.
Outside Biosciences, research on plant responses to climate change, tropical biodiversity and wildfires is conducted by colleagues within Geography’s ‘Landscape and ecosystem dynamics’ research theme. Within the wider south-west region, we have strong links with Rothamsted Research (North Wyke), Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association.
Recent research highlights
Hydrogen peroxide protects plants against sun damage
Research conducted by Nick Smirnoff in conjunction with collaborators at the University of Essex has provided the first characterization of how plants use hydrogen peroxide as a signalling molecule, enabling a cellular response to varying levels of light.
Cell cycle checkpoints underpin virulence of the rice blast fungus, Magnaporthe oryzae
Research led by Nick Talbot has revealed how two independent cell cycle checkpoints in the fungal pathogen Magnaporthe oryzae are critical for the formation of the appressorium, the specialized infection structure that enables entry of the fungus into host tissue.
Genomic insight into the susceptibility to ash dieback disease
An international research study, including Exeter’s David Studholme, has assessed the genome sequence and genetic diversity of European ash trees, resulting in improved markers for reduced susceptibility to ash dieback. These studies provide new insight into strategies for controlling the disease epidemic that is devastating ash trees across Europe.
Unravelling the response of plants to drought
A collaborative study across the Universities of Exeter, Essex, Warwick and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology has provided unrivalled insight into the physiological, metabolic and transcriptional response of plants to drought.