Sophien Kamoun, The Sainsbury Laboratory

BLASTOFF – Keeping Up With A Cereal Killer

Infectious plant diseases cause havoc to world agriculture and threaten to slow laudable efforts to launch a second green revolution to meet the food security needs of a booming world population. Filamentous pathogens such as the rice blast fungus, wheat stripe and stem rust, the Irish potato famine pathogen, and many others continue to trigger recurrent epidemics with far reaching consequences. In this talk, I will discuss how it is possible to perform cutting-edge research and significantly advance knowledge on economically important pathosystems, particularly in the post-genomics era. I will focus on the blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae, a devastating cereal killer that infects the crops wheat, barley and rice, which are staple food for a majority of the world population. Together with collaborators Ryohei Terauchi (Kyoto University, Japan) and Mark Banfield (John Innes Centre, UK), we gained an unprecedented level of detail of the molecular interactions that define host-pathogen recognitions by solving the crystal structures of fungal effectors in complex with plant proteins and reconstructing the evolutionary history of these molecular interactions. Our aim is to build on these discoveries to drive both basic and applied plant pathology. We have started to develop a thorough understanding of the biophysical properties of pathogen effector binding to host proteins and their consequences on pathogenesis and immunity. Ultimately, we will deliver traits and non-transgenic cultivars for breeding disease resistance in crops.

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