Trees resistant to ash dieback have very low levels of chemicals which defend against insects. Read more.
Chloroplasts (red) associated with a nucleus, which appears green due to a fluorescent hydrogen peroxide sensing protein. Read more.
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
Defining the molecular mechanisms of plant immunity
In the interaction between plant and pathogen, cell wall appositions are produced reactively by the plant immune system to arrest microbial invasion through the local inversion of plant cell growth. Plant actin dynamics are essential to this process. A study led by Mike Deeks reveals that the trafficking of host proteins to discrete sites of fungal pathogen contact includes a specific membrane-integrated formin that reinforces local cytoskeletal dynamics during an immune response.
Ash leaf metabolomes and their association with tolerance to ash dieback disease
An international research study, including Exeter’s David Studholme has been studying the mechanisms of resistance to ash dieback, a disease caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. Instead of focussing on DNA, the study assessed differences in the chemical composition between tolerant and susceptible ash trees. The researchers found that trees containing chemicals giving fungal resistance could put them at risk from insects.
Hydrogen peroxide protects plants against sun damage
Research conducted by Nick Smirnoff and 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.