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A tale of one fungal pathogen of wheat: how it evades host surveillance and then hijacks host defences

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10 December 2013, 11am: Free
at the James Hutton Institute, Dundee DD2 5DA
for scientists, students and other interested parties
Kostya Kanyuka

This seminar entitled "A tale of one fungal pathogen of wheat: how it evades host surveillance and then hijacks host defences" will be given by Dr Kostya Kanyuka of Rothamsted Research at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee. It will be broadcast live to the Aberdeen site.


Fungal pathogens of plants seriously compromise food security. Fungicide application can be an effective way of protecting plants however future legislative changes, the evolution of resistances, and concerns over their environmental footprint remain. A more cost effective and sustainable route to crop protection would be to either enhance the natural plant disease resistance or to reduce the susceptibility of plants to pathogens.

One of the most common defence strategies in plants is induction of programmed cell death (PCD) upon pathogen recognition. This strategy aims to limit the nutrient supply and confine the pathogens to the initially infected sites. Recent studies suggest that fungal necrotrophic pathogens, which obtain their nutrients from the dead plant cells, are able to hijack the plant defence system by stimulating an extensive host plant PCD and directly benefitting from massive nutrients release.

The most economically important foliar disease of wheat in the UK and Western Europe is Septoria tritici blotch (STB) caused by the fungus Zymoseptoria tritici, more commonly known as Septoria tritici or Mycosphaerella graminicola. This fungal species has interesting infection biology. It enters the wheat leaf exclusively via open stomata and the fungal hyphae slowly invade intercellular spaces between the mesophyll cells in an extended (>9 days) symptomless infection phase. Throughout this period there appears to be minimal detectable plant defence responses. This is then followed by a sudden induction of host PCD and release of nutrients required for fungal growth and subsequent successful sporulation.

Our recent findings from the analyses of the molecular events during the M. graminicola–wheat interaction will be presented.


Kostya Kanyuka is Senior Research Scientist at Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, UK where he leads functional genomics in the ‘Protecting Wheat Yield’ work package of the ‘20:20® Wheat’ Institute Strategic Programme. Kostya’s research is focused on dissection of molecular interactions between wheat and non-biotrophic fungi, for example, Zymoseptoria tritici (synonyms: Mycosphaerella graminicola and Septoria tritici).

He was originally trained as plant virologist, and later on in his career gained skills, expertise and experience in plant molecular genetics and genomics. Hence, much of Kostya’s research involves using plant viruses as instruments for functional characterisation of plant and fungal genes. Candidate plant genes that play roles during fungal disease establishment and / or during defence are being subjected to functional analyses assisted by the Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS). Plant viruses are also being employed as vectors for in planta expression and functional analysis of predicted fungal secreted effector proteins.

The seminar is being hosted by Dr Anna Avrova.

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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.