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Eleanor Gilroy

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Recent publications

Staff picture: Eleanor Gilroy
Cell and Molecular Sciences
+44 (0)844 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK

Current research interests 

Exploiting the potato genome sequence to understand the interface between plant development and abiotic/biotic stress responses

I am currently co-ordinating a project, bringing together scientists with a range of expertise in studying potato and other Solanaceae from within the James Hutton Institute (Cell and Molecular Sciences group and the Controlling Weeds, Pests and Diseases and Enhancing Crop Productivity and Utilisation themes and the Dundee Effector Consortium) to develop our Centre for Research on Potato and other Solanaceous plants.

This project will employ state-of-the-art enabling technologies to fast track the identification and functional characterisation of genes and their regulatory mechanisms that contribute to desirable traits and processes and examine the overlap. We are integrating data across different platforms to achieve a true “systems view” in potato.

My key scientific objectives are:

  • To investigate the crosstalk between biotic and abiotic stress pathways.
  • To examine how plant development may affect resistance to biotic stress.
  • To examine why some pathogen effectors interact with host proteins that regulate pathways more typically associated with plant growth and/or response to environmental factors?

Past research 

2007-2011: BBSRC Crop Science Initiative: Exploiting the Phytophthora infestans genome to determine targets for sustainable potato protection.

An important research goal in the fight against potato late blight, caused by the Oomycete Phytophthora infestans, is to identify pathogen effector proteins likely to be secreted during infection and translocated into host cells to manipulate host metabolism and defence responses. Many of these effectors are targeted by host surveillance systems to trigger resistance that is effective and potentially durable. AVR3a, the first effector characterized from P. infestans, was found to contain N-terminal RxLR and dEER motifs required for transport across the host plasma membrane. Developing genomic resources have allowed large-scale computational screening for this conserved motif to reveal approximately 500 rapidly diverging P. infestans effectors.

Photograph of P.infestans on an N.benthamiana leafWe are cloning candidate P. infestans RxLR-EER effectors that are induced during plant infection, some containing predicted PFAM domains. These effectors are being expressed transiently in collections of cultivated and wild Solanum species to identify sources of resistance (R) genes that recognise specific effectors. In this way, we have identified Avr2, recognised by the R2 resistance gene which maps to the durable resistance locus present in cv. Stirling. By silencing effectors in P. infestans we have identified effectors that are functionally essential and effectors that are redundant for virulence. Furthermore, studying allelic variation of avirulent effectors in isolates from around the world reveals the selection pressures imposed on these genes in pathogen populations.

I am also silencing host targets of P. infestans effectors that interact in Yeast-2-hybrid experiments using Tobacco Rattle Virus in N. benthamiana. Functional analyses of both the P. infestans effector and its virulence target will aid dissection of the key regulatory pathways of potato targeted by P. infestans during infection in order to distinguish those that could be targeted to control disease development.

2004-2007: Systems Biology, Dr Paul Birch and Ian Toth, Plant Pathogology, SCRI, Invergowrie, Great Britain

  • The systems biology project was focused on the soft-rot pathogen, Pectobacterium. atrosepticum (Pba) and its interaction with potato.
  • I was involved in plant gene selection for the design of a potato microarray (Agilent).
  • Investigating the role of Pba effectors in the suppression of plant basal resistance responses.
  • Exploring the role of a WRKY transcription factor in potato that conveys resistance against Pba.

October 2001-March 2005, BBRSC case PhD studentship: Utilising model systems and crop species to discover and characterise novel genes in plant disease resistance.

  • Work in Gary Loake’s group at Edinburgh University employed knock-out, over-expression and activation-tagged Arabidopsis mutants to investigate defence responses induced by biotrophic, necrotrophic and non-host pathogens.
  • My aim in Paul Birch’s group at SCRI was to functionally analyse genes involved in the resistance responses of particular potato cultivars induced by interactions with Phytophthora infestans.
  • Under the guidance of Christophe Lacomme, A potato virus X (PVX)-based Virus Induced Gene Silencing (VIGS) system was developed for tetraploid and wild diploid potato cultivars.
  • In addition, a VIGS functional screen in the model Solanaceae, Nicotiana benthamiana was established to investigate the role of plant defence genes further using Tobacco Rattle Virus (TRV).
  • The 2nd major finding of the PhD was the role of one defense gene, the protease cathepsin B during the hypersensitive response (HR).

I gained field pathology experience as a Temporary Growing Potato Seed Crop Inspector with the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department during July 1999, 2000 and 2001.

Bachelor of Science with Honours Genetics - 1997 - 2001: Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, the University of Edinburgh, UK.


  • Photograph of the workshop in South AfricaI am currently a Researcher in Residence helping Biology pupils at Craigie High School, Dundee, learn more about agriculture, impact of diseases and Genetic Modification of Crops.
  • Helping Learning and Teaching Scotland design a case study on the impact of Potato Late Blight on Agriculture for new Curriculum for Excellence.
  • Lecture in MRes: Crops for the Future focusing on Plant defence responses and GM techniques used to protect crop plants from pathogens.
  • Guest lecturer on Plant Defence Responses at University of Edinburgh and University of Aberdeen.
  • I was involved in designing, writing and teaching a Virus-Induced Gene Silencing Workshop with Ingo Hein, Leighton Pritchard, Paul Birch from SCRI with Dave Berger, Eddie Ventre and Irene van Nugteren held at the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI), Pretoria, South Africa on the 11-16 February 2008 funded by the Royal Society.
  • External Examiner for a University of Edinburgh Masters thesis.


I recently made a science exhibit for a Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) event at Dundee Sensation science centre. After visiting my good friend Lindsay Hogg who works at Glasgow Science Centre where I saw the “You choose the news” game on stem cells and decided to adapt this to focus on GM technology.

The game involves a mixture of personal interviews, a newsreader, a roving reporter and media clips reflecting positive, negative and neutral attitudes towards GM technology. The purpose of the game is to let children choose which clips to combine to achieve a balanced news report.

Photograph of filming for the You choose the news gameAfter securing funding from the British Society of Plant Pathology I recreated the game focusing on the forthcoming EU pesticide ban and the potential of using GM technology as a result. The project was possible thanks to my friend Jenny Ross, a TV camera operator for STV North, filming the project for her own personal development and all volunteers who acted in the game or helped behind the scenes (Miles Armstrong, Paul Birch, Vivian Blok, Susan Breen, Emma Douglas, Andy Flavell, Alastair Gilroy, Ingo Hein, Hazel McLellan, Amarnath Thirugnana Sambandam).

You choose the news” can be played on the SCRI website.


  • Cooke, D.E., Cano, L.M., Raffaele, S., Bain, R.A., Cooke, L.R., Etherington, G.J., Deahl, K.L., Farrer, R.A., Gilroy, E.M., Goss, E.M., Grünwald, N.J., Hein, I., Maclean, D., McNicol, J.W., Randall, E., Oliva, R.F., Pel, M.A., Shaw, D.S., Squires, J.N., Taylor, M.C., Vleeshouwers, V.G., Birch, P.R., Lees, A.K., Kamoun, S. 2012. Genome analyses of an aggressive and invasive lineage of the Irish potato famine pathogen. PLoS Pathogens 2012 Oct;8(10):e1002940. (doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002940) [Epub 2012 Oct 4.]
  • Newton, A.C., Torrance, L., Holden, N., Toth, I.K., Cooke, D.E., Blok, V., Gilroy, E.M. 2012. Climate Change and Defense against Pathogens in Plants. Advances in Applied Microbiology 81, 89-132.
  • Saunders, D.G., Breen, S., Win, J., Schornack, S., Hein, I., Bozkurt, T.O., Champouret, N., Vleeshouwers, V.G., Birch, P.R., Gilroy, E.M., Kamoun, S. 2012. Host Protein BSL1 Associates with Phytophthora infestans RXLR Effector AVR2 and the Solanum demissum Immune Receptor R2 to Mediate Disease Resistance. Plant Cell 24(8), 3420-34. [Epub 2012 Aug 10.]
  • Sun, X., Gilroy, E.M., Chini, A., Nurmberg, P.L., Hein, I., Lacomme, C., Birch, P.R., Hussain, A., Yun, B.W., Loake, G.J. 2011. ADS1 encodes a MATE-transporter that negatively regulates plant disease resistance. New Phytologist 192(2), 471-82. (doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03820.x) [Epub 2011 Jul 15.]
  • Gilroy, E.M., Breen, S., Whisson, S.C., Squires, J., Hein, I., Kaczmarek, M., Turnbull, D., Boevink, P.C., Lokossou, A., Cano, L.M., Morales, J., Avrova, A.O., Pritchard, L., Randall, E., Lees, A., Govers, F., van West, P., Kamoun, S., Vleeshouwers, V.G., Cooke, D.E., Birch, P.R. 2011. Presence/absence, differential expression and sequence polymorphisms between PiAVR2 and PiAVR2-like in Phytophthora infestans determine virulence on R2 plants. New Phytologist. 2011 May 3. (doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03736.x) [Epub ahead of print]
  • Gilroy, E.M., Taylor, R.M., Hein, I., Boevink, P., Sadanandom, A. and Birch, P.R.J. 2011. CMPG1-dependent cell death follows perception of diverse pathogen elicitors at the host plasma membrane and is suppressed by Phytophthora infestans RXLR effector AVR3a. New Phytologist 190, 653-66.
  • Bos, J.I.B., Armstrong, M.R., Gilroy, E.M., Boevink, P.C., Hein, I.,Taylor, R.M., Zhendong, T., Engelhardt, S., Vetukuri, R.R., Harrower, B., Dixelius, C., Bryan, G., Sadanandom, A., Whisson, S.C., Kamoun, S., Birch, P.R.J. 2010. Phytophthora infestans effector AVR3a is essential for virulence and manipulates plant immunity by stabilizing host E3 ligase CMPG1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107(21), 9909-9914.
  • Haas, B.J., Kamoun, S., Zody, M.C., Jiang, R.H., Handsaker, R.E., Cano, L.M., Grabherr, M., Kodira, C.D., Raffaele, S., Torto-Alalibo, T., Bozkurt, T.O., Ah-Fong, A.M., Alvarado, L., Anderson, V.L., Armstrong, M.R., Avrova, A., Baxter, L., Beynon, J., Boevink, P.C., Bollmann, S.R., Bos, J.I., Bulone, V., Cai, G., Cakir, C., Carrington, J.C., Chawner, M., Conti, L., Costanzo, S., Ewan, R., Fahlgren, N., Fischbach, M.A., Fugelstad, J., Gilroy, E.M., Gnerre, S., Green, P.J., Grenville-Briggs, L.J., Griffith, J., Grünwald, N.J., Horn, K., Horner, N.R., Hu, C.H., Huitema, E., Jeong, D.H., Jones, A.M., Jones, J.D., Jones, R.W., Karlsson, E.K., Kunjeti, S.G., Lamour, K., Liu, Z., Ma, L., Maclean, D., Chibucos, M.C., McDonald, H., McWalters, J., Meijer, H.J., Morgan, W., Morris, P.F., Munro, C.A., O'Neill, K., Ospina-Giraldo, M., Pinzón, A., Pritchard, L., Ramsahoye, B., Ren, Q., Restrepo, S., Roy, S., Sadanandom, A., Savidor, A., Schornack, S., Schwartz, D.C., Schumann, U.D., Schwessinger, B., Seyer, L., Sharpe, T., Silvar, C., Song, J., Studholme, D.J., Sykes, S., Thines, M., van de Vondervoort, P.J., Phuntumart, V., Wawra, S., Weide, R., Win, J., Young, C., Zhou, S., Fry, W., Meyers, B.C., van West, P., Ristaino, J., Govers, F., Birch, P.R., Whisson, S.C., Judelson, H.S., Nusbaum, C. 2009. Genome sequence and analysis of the Irish potato famine pathogen Phytophthora infestans. Nature 461(7262), 393-398.
  • Hein, I., Gilroy, E.M., Armstrong, M.R., Birch, P.R.J. 2009. The zig-zag-zig in oomycete-plant interactions. Molecular Plant Pathology 10(4), 547-562.
  • Birch, P.R.J., Armstrong, M., Bos, J., Boevink, P., Gilroy, E.M., Taylor, R.M., Wawra, S., Pritchard, L., Conti, L., Ewan, R., Whisson, S.C., van West, P., Sadanandom, A. and Kamoun S. 2009. Towards understanding the virulence functions of RXLR effectors of the oomycete plant pathogen Phytophthora infestans. Journal of Experimental Botany 60, 1133-1140.
  • Birch, P.R.J, Boevink, P.C., Gilroy, E.M., Hein, I., Pritchard, L. and Whisson S.C. 2008. Oomycete RXLR effectors: delivery, functional redundancy and durable disease resistance. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 11, 373-9.
  • Gilroy, E.M., Hein, I., van der Hoorn, R., Boevink, P.C., Venter, E., McLellan, H., Canalez, E., Kaffarnik, F., Hrubikova, K., Shaw, J., Holeva, M., Borras-Hidalgo, O., Pritchard, L., Loake, G.J., Lacomme, C., Birch, P.R.J. 2007. Involvement of Cathepsin B in the Plant Disease Resistance Hypersensitive Response. Plant Journal 52, 1-13.
  • Whisson, S.C., Boevink, P.C., Moleleki, L. , Avrova,  A.O., Morales, J.G., Gilroy, E.M., Armstrong,  M.R.,  Grouffaud, S., van West, P., Chapman, S., Hein, I., Toth, I.K., Pritchard, L. and Birch, P.R.J. 2007. A translocation signal for delivery of oomycete effector proteins into host plant cells. Nature 450, 115-118. (doi:10.1038/nature06203)
  • Faivre-Rampant., O., Gilroy, E.M.,  Hrubikova, K., Hein, I., Millam, S., Loake, G.J., Birch, P., Taylor, M. and  Lacomme, C. 2004. Potato Virus X-Induced Gene Silencing in Leaves and Tubers of Potato. Plant Physiology 134, 1308-1316.
  • Tani, H., Chen, X., Nurmberg, P., Grant., J.J., SantaMaria, M., Chini, A., Gilroy, E.M., Birch, P.R.J. and Loake, G.J. 2004. Activation Tagging in Plants: A Tool for Gene Discovery. Integrative and Functional Genomics 4, 258-266.
  • Avrova, A.O., Taleb, N., Rokka, V.M., Heilbronn, J., Campbell, E., Hein, I., Gilroy, E.M., Cardle, L., Bradshaw, J.E., Stewart, H.E., Fakim, Y.J., Loake, G. and Birch, P.R.J. 2004. Potato oxysterol binding protein and cathepsin B are rapidly up-regulated in independent defence pathways that distinguish R gene-mediated and field resistance to Phytophthora infestans. Molecular Plant Pathology 5,  45-56.
  • Birch, P.R.J., Avrova, A.O., Armstrong, M., Venter, E., Taleb, N., Gilroy, E.M., Phillips, M.S. and Whisson, S.C. 2003. The potato-Phytophthora infestans interaction transcriptome. Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology 25, 226-231.

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  • Phone: +44 (0)844 928 5428
  • Craigiebuckler Aberdeen AB15 8QH Scotland
  • Invergowrie Dundee DD2 5DA Scotland
A Scottish charitable company limited by guarantee. Registered in Scotland No SC374831.
Registered office: The James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie Dundee DD2 5DA. Charity No SCO41796

Printed from /staff/eleanor-gilroy on 01/07/16 07:53:01 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.