• A major focus of my research at The James Hutton Institute is the discovery and functional characterisation of P. infestans genes required for pathogenicity and avirulence on the host plant potato, through an integrated genomics approach. Genes found to be crucial for the successful infection of potato are clearly potential targets for future late blight, and broader oomycete, control strategies.
  • Active areas of research in the Phytophthora genomics lab include: effector/avirulence gene discovery and characterisation, screening for candidate pathogenicity factors using transient gene silencing (RNA interference), characterisation of RXLR-EER-mediated effector protein translocation into host plant cells, and cell biology of P. infestans/plant interactions using pathogen::fluorescent proteins fusions.

Past research

  • My PhD research characterised the genetics of avirulence in the soybean root rot pathogen Phytophthora sojae, the genome of which has now been sequenced.
  • I joined SCRI as a postdoc in 1999 on a project based around the creation of genomics capabilities for P. infestans at SCRI, including constructing a large insert bacterial chromosome library, physical mapping of selected genomic regions, and targeted gene discovery using cDNA-AFLP and suppression subtractive hybridisation.
  • In 2002 I was awarded the first SEERAD Senior Research Fellowship to work on an integrated genomics strategy for P. infestans, and identify genes involved in the interaction with its host potato.
  • Although much previous research has been heavily biased towards genetic markers, genomics studies, and gene discovery, recent research has been driven by the need to determine the function of novel oomycete genes in the P. infestans / potato interaction.

Key collaborators

Within The James Hutton Institute:

Outside The James Hutton Institute:

  • Pieter van West (University of Aberdeen, UK)
  • Jim Beynon (Warwick-HRI, UK)
  • Sophien Kamoun (Ohio State University, USA)
  • Chad Nusbaum (Broad Institute, USA).

Journals

Books / chapters

  • Sundararajan, P.; Kalyandurg, B.P.; Liu, Q.; Chawade, A.; Whisson, S.; Vetukuri, R.R. (2022) Spray-Induced Gene Silencing to Study Gene Function in Phytophthora, In: Luchi, N. (ed.). Plant Pathology: Method and Protocols. Methods in Molecular Biology Volume 2536. New York: Humana, Chapter 27, pp 459-474.
  • Whisson, S.C. (2016) Strategies, resources and tools to identify targets for new disease control chemicals for oomycete plant pathogens., In: Chowdappa, P., Sharma, D. Singh, A. & Misra, A.K. (eds.). Perspectives of Plant Pathology in Genomic Era. New Delhi, India, Today and Tomorrow Publishers, Chapter 13, pp271-292. ISBN 1-55528-382-9 (USA).
  • Boevink, P.; Birch, P.R.J.; Whisson, S.C. (2011) Imaging fluorescently tagged Phytophthora effector proteins inside infected plant tissue., In: McDowell, J.M. (ed.). Methods in Molecular Biology Plant Immunity: Methods and Protocols. Humana Press, Totowa, New Jersey, USA, Chapter 712, pp195-209.
  • Whisson, S.C. (2010) Phytophthora., In: Roberts, K. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Life Science. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK,
  • Whisson, S.C.; Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; van West, P.; Avrova, A.O. (2009) Mechanism and application of gene silencing in oomycetes., In: Lamour, K.H. & Kamoun, S. (eds.). Oomycete Genetics and Genomics: Diversity, Interactions and Research Tools. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, New Jersey, USA, Chapter 25, 493-515.

Technical / contract reports

  • Whisson, S.C.; Boevink, P.; Pritchard, L.; Avrova, A.O.; Morales, J.; Birch, P.R.J. (2006) Effector protein translocation in the Phytophthora infestans – potato infection., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2006, pp24-25.
  • Toth, I.K.; Pritchard, L.; Holeva, M.C.; Hyman, L.J.; Bell, K.S.; Whisson, S.C.; Avrova, A.O.; Birch, P.R.J. (2004) New discoveries with Erwinia genomics., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2002/2003, p101.
  • Whisson, S.C.; Avrova, A.O.; Birch, P.R.J.; Adam, M.; Blok, V.C.; Jones, J.T. (2004) Functional genomic tools for the major eukaryotic pathogens of potato., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2003/2004, pp127-128.
  • Whisson, S.C.; Avrova, A.O.; Armstrong, M.R.; Jones, J.T.; Venter, E.; Birch, P.R.J. (2004) Targeting late blight with gene discovery., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2002/2003, pp102-103.
  • Whisson, S.C.; Avrova, A.O.; Armstrong, M.R.; Campbell, E.; Birch, P.R.J. (2002) Late blight of potato: Pathogen genomics approaches to a continuing problem., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2001/2002, pp29-32.
  • Whisson, S.C.; van der Lee, T.; Bryan, G.J.; Waugh, R.; Govers, F.; Birch, P.R.J. (2001) Phytophthora infestans genomics: positional cloning of avirulence genes., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2000/2001, pp132-135.

Conference papers

  • Wang, H.; Wang, S.; Wang, W.; Welsh, L.; Gierlinski, M.; Whisson, S.; Hemsley, P.; Boevink, P.; Birch, P. (2022) Entering via the front door Cytoplasmic effectors are taken into host cells via endocytosis, 52nd Congress of the Southern African Society for Plant Pathologists (SASSP), 1-3 August 2022, Pretoria.
  • Boevink, P.C.; Wang, S.; Pham, J.; Turnbull, D.; Welsh, L.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J. (2019) The oomycete RXLR motif determines non-conventional secretion for effector delivery., IS-MPMI Molecular Plant Microbe Interactions, XVIII Congress, Glasgow, 14-18 July 2019.
  • Wang, S.; Boevink, P.C.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J. (2018) How are effectors secreted and delivered to the host?, Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network Meeting, Shandong Agricultural University, Taian, China, 8-12 April 2018.
  • Whisson, S.C.; Randall, E.; Young, V.; Birch, P.R.J.; Cooke, D.E.L.; Csukai, M. (2013) Involvement of RNA polymerase I in mefenoxam insensitivity in Phytophthora infestans., Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network Meeting. Pacific Grove, California, 10-12 March 2013.
  • Whisson, S.C.; Gilroy, E.M.; Avrova, A.O.; Tian, Z.D.; Breen, S.; Armstrong MR.; Squires, J.; Vieeshouwers, V.; McLellan, H.; Seman, Z.; Kandel, K.; Boevink, P.C.; Pritchard, L.; Hein, I.; Cooke, D.E.L.; Birch, P.R.J.; (2011) Phytophthora infestans effectors in late blight disease development and exploitation for disease control., 18th Triennial Conference of the European Association for Potato Research, Oulu, Finland, 24-29 July 2011.
  • Thirugnanasambandam, A.; Whisson, S.C.; Wright, K.M.; Havis, N.D.; Atkins, S.D.; Newton, A.C. (2011) Investigations of the asymptomatic phase of Rynchosporium secalis and Ramularia collo-cygni infection using GFP expressing variants., Fourth International Workshop on Barley Leaf Blights, Dundee, 27-29 June 2011.
  • Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; Avrova, A.O.; Hay, R.J.; Whisson, S.C.; van West, P. (2010) Identification of appressorial and mycelial cell wall and membrane-associated proteins from Phytophthora infestans., Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network Congress, Toulouse, France, 6-8 June 2010.
  • Vetukuri, R.R.; Tellgren-Roth, C.; Avrova, A.O.; Savenkov, E.I.; Whisson, S.C.; Dixelius, C. (2010) Exploring the small RNA world in Phyophthora infestans., Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network Congress, Toulouse, France, 6-8 June 2010.
  • Wawra, S.; Grouffaud, S.; Bain, J.; Whisson, S.C.; Matena, A.; Porter, A.J.; Bayer, P.; Birch, P.R.J.; Secombes, C.J.; van West, P. (2010) Unravelling the mechanism of RXLR mediated translocation of oomycete effector proteins., Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network Congress, Toulouse, France, 6-8 June 2010.
  • McLellan, H.; Tian, Z.D.; Avrova, A.O.; Gilroy, E.M.; Pritchard, L.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J. (2010) Identification of RXLR effectors essential for virulence in Phytophthora infestans., Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network Congress, Toulouse, France, 6-8 June 2010.
  • Breen, S.; Gilroy, E.M.; Armstrong, M.R.; Morales, J.G.; Hein, I.; Douglas, E.; Boevink, P.; McLellan, H.; Randall, E.; Tian, Z.D.; Avrova, A.O.; Pritchard, L.; Lokossou, A.A.; Govers, F.; van der Vossen, E.A.G.; Vleeshouwers, V.G.A.A.; Brunner, F.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J. (2010) Avr2, an RXLR effector from Phytophthora infestans., Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network Congress, Toulouse, France, 6-8 June 2010.
  • Armstrong, M.R.; Boevink, P.; Bukharova, T.; McLellan, H.; Ramos, M.; Gilroy, E.M.; Pritchard, L.; Whisson, S.C.; Beynon, J.; Birch, P.R.J. (2010) Identifying candidate host ‘targets’ of Phytophthora infestans translocated RXLR proteins., Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network Congress, Toulouse, France, 6-8 June 2010.
  • Gilroy, E.M.; Hein, I.; McLellan, H.; Breen, S.; Engelhardt, S.; Tian, Z.D.; Seman, Z.A.; Pritchard, L.; Armstrong, M.R.; Randall, E.; Avrova, A.O.; Cooke, D.E.L.; Lees, A.K.; Vleeshouwers, V.G.A.A.; van West, P.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J. (2010) Using knowledge of RXLR effectors to seek durable resistance., Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network Congress, Toulouse, France, 6-8 June 2010.
  • Gilroy, E.M.; Breen, S.; Hein, I.; Tian, Z.D.; Armstrong, M.R.; Douglas, E.; Lokossou, A.A.; Boevink, P.; McLellan, H.; Randall, E.; Morales, J.G.; Avrova, A.O.; Pritchard, L.; van der Vossen, E.A.G.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J. (2009) Amino acid polymorphisms upstream of the RXLR motif in Phytophthora infestans effector Avr2 condition R gene recognition., The Fungal Cell, British Mycological Society Meeting, Westpark Conference Centre, Dundee, 1-4 September 2009.
  • Whisson, S.C.; Vetukuri, R.R.; Tian, Z.D.; Dixelius, C.; Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; van West, P.; Birch, P.R.J.; Avrova, A.O. (2009) Silencing of candidate pathogenicity factors in Phytophthora infestans: transient and stable silencing., Fungal Genetics Conference, Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, California, USA, 17-22 March 2009.
  • Grouffaud, S.; van West, P.; Avrova, A.O.; Birch, P.R.J.; Whisson, S.C. (2009) Plasmodium falciparum and Hyaloperonospora parasitica effector translocation motifs are functional in Phytophthora infestans., Fungal Genetics Conference, Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, California, USA, 17-22 March 2009.
  • Gilroy, E.M.; Armstrong, M.R.; Bos, J.; Taylor, R.; Morales, J.; Hein, I.; Douglas, E.; Boevink, P.; Avrova, A.O.; Breen, S.; van West, P.; Pritchard, L.; Whisson, S.C.; Sadanandom, A.; Kamoun, S.; Birch, P.R.J. (2009) Functional analysis of Phytophthora infestans RXLR effectors Avr2 and Avr3a., Fungal Genetics Conference, Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, California, USA, 17-22 March 2009.
  • Wawra, S.; Phillips, A.J.; Minor, K.; Grouffaud, S.; Bain, J.; Gilroy, E.M.; Robertson, E.J.; Anderson, V.L.; Bruce, C.R.; Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; Homer, N.R.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J.; Porter, A.J.; Secombes, C.J.; van West, P. (2009) Unravelling the mechanism of RXLR mediated translocation of oomycete effector proteins., Fungal Genetics Conference. Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, California, USA, 17-22 March 2009.
  • Hein, I.; Gilroy, E.M.; Whisson, S.C.; Pritchard, L.; Bryan, G.J.; Birch, P.R.J. (2009) Exploiting the Phytophthora infestans genome to determine targets for sustainable potato protection., XIV MPMI Conference, Montreal, Canada, 19-23 July 2009.
  • Birch, P.R.J.; Armstrong, M.R.; Gilroy, E.M.; Bos, J.; Taylor, R.M.; Morales, J.G.; Hein, I.; Douglas, E.; Boevink, P.; Breen, S.; Pritchard, L.; Whisson, S.C.; Sadanandom, A.; Kamoun, S. (2009) Localisation and function of Phytophthora infestans RXLR effectors and their host targets., XIV MPMI Conference, Montreal, Canada, 19-23 July 2009.
  • Grouffaud, S.; Boevink, P.; Avrova, A.O.; van West, P.; Birch, P.R.J.; Whisson, S.C. (2008) Translocation of effector proteins from the oomycete Phytophthora infestans into plant cells., 9th European Conference on Fungal Genetics, Edinburgh, 5-8 April 2008.
  • Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; Anderson, V.L.; Bruce, C.R.; Avrova, A.O.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J.; van West, P. (2007) Functional characterisation of cellulose synthases from Phytophthora infestans using proteomics and RNA interference., XXIV Fungal Genetics Conference, Asilomar Conference Grounds, California, USA, 20-25 March 2007.
  • Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; Anderson, V.L.; Avrova, A.O.; Williams, A.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J.; van West, P. (2007) Cellulose synthesis in Phytophthora infestans is required for appressorium formation and successful infection of potato., BSPP Presidential Meeting, University of Bath, 12-14 September 2007 (Poster).
  • Zody, M.C.; Jiang, R.H.Y.; Handsaker, R.; Grabherr, M.; Kodira, C.D.; Govers, F.; Birch, P.R.J.; Whisson, S.C.; Win, J.; Judelson, H.S.; Ristaino, J.B.; Fry, W.E.; Kamoun, S.; Nusbaum, C. (2007) Genome dynamics in the pathogen/host arms race: Initial analysis of the Phytophthora infestans genome., American Phytopathological Society Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA, USA, 28 July-1 August 2007.
  • Avrova, A.O.; Boevink, P.; Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; van West, P.; Birch, P.R.J.; Whisson, S.C. (2007) Identification of novel pathogenicity factors in the late blight pathogen, Phytophthora infestans., XIII International Congress on Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, Sorrento, Italy, 22-26 July 2007.
  • Whisson, S.C.; Boevink, P.; Moleleki, L.N.; Avrova, A.O.; Morales, J.G.; Gilroy, E.M.; Armstrong, M.R.; Toth, I.K.; Pritchard, L.; Birch, P.R.J. (2007) A translocation signal for delivery of oomycete effector proteins into host plant cells., XIII International Congress on Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, Sorrento, Italy, 22-26 July 2007.
  • Morales, J.G.; Whisson, S.C.; Avrova, A.O.; Birch, P.R.J. (2006) Mechanisms of virulence and avirulence in the biotrophic interaction between potato and late blight pathogen Phytophthora infestans., Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network, Wageningen, 4-7 May 2006
  • Walker, C.; Koppe, M.; Avrova, A.O.; Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; Birch, P.R.J.; Whisson, S.C.; van West, P. (2005) A DEAD box RNA helicase is required for normal zoospore development in the potato late blight pathogen Phytophthora infestans., Molecular Biology of Plant Pathogens XVI, Ambleside, 19-21 September 2005 (Talk).
  • Venter, E.; Gilroy, E.M.; Avrova, A.O.; Kamoun, S.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J. (2004) Functional screening of Phytophthora infestans protease inhibitors in potato., Molecular Biology of Fungal Pathogens XV, University of Wales, 13 (Talk).
  • Birch, P.R.J.; Blok, V.C.; Phillips, M.; Jones, J.T.; Stewart, H.E.; Duncan, J.M.; Bryan, G.J.; Waugh, R.; Lyon, G.D.; MacFarlane, S.A.; Avrova, A.O.; Whisson, S.C.; Toth, I.K. (2003) Current and future research at SCRI on the molecular genetics of the interactions between potato and its major pathogens., Acta Horticulturae, 619, 95-119.

Conference posters / abstracts

  • Birch, P.R.J.; Boevink, P.C.; Gilroy, E.M.; Hein, I.; Pritchard, L.; Whisson, S.C. (2012) Effectors from the potato late blight pathogen: their roles in suppressing or triggering the plant immune system., EPS Autumn-school, Wageningen, 6 March 2012.
  • Birch, P.R.J.; Boevink, P.C.; Gilroy, E.M.; Hein, I.; Pritchard, L.; Randall, E.; Whisson, S.C. (2011) Effectors from the potato late blight pathogen: their roles in suppressing or triggering the plant immune system., British Mycological Society Meeting, Exeter, September 2011.
  • Thirugnanasambandam, A.; Whisson, S.C.; Wright, K.M.; Havis, N.D.; Atkins, S.D.; Newton, A.C. (2011) Investigations of the asymptomatic phase of Rhynchosporium secalis and Ramularia collo-cygni infection using GFP expressing variants., Fourth International Workshop on Barley Leaf Blights, West Park Centre, Dundee, 27-29 June 2011. (Poster)
  • Thirugnanasambandam, A.; Wright, K.M.; Havis, N.D.; Whisson, S.C.; Newton, A.C. (2011) Illuminating fungal infections of barley., Royal Microscopical Society Botanical Microscopy Meeting, Wageningen, The Netherlands, 16-21 April 2011 (Poster).
  • Thirugnanasambandam, A.; Wright, K.M.; Havis, N.D.; Whisson, S.C.; Atkins, S.D.; Newton, A.C. (2010) Role of seed-borne infection in rhynchosporium and ramularia epidemics in barley., HGCA, PhD Symposium, University of Nottingham, 23 April 2010 (Talk & Poster).
  • Hein, I.; Whisson, S.C.; Armstrong, M.; Gilroy, E.M.; Avrova, A.O.; Tian, Z.; Chapman, S.N.; Birch, P.R.J.; Bryan, G.J. (2010) Identifying key Phytophthora infestans effectors as targets for more durable late blight resistance., 7th Solanaceae Conference 2010, Dundee, 5-9 September 2010, 155 (Poster).
  • Gilroy, E.M.; Breen, S.; Morales, J.G.; Lokossou, A.A.; Ramos, B.; Armstrong, M.R.; Hein, I.; Boevink, P.; Pritchard, L.; van der Vossen, E.A.G.; Vleeshouwers, V.G.A.A.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J. (2009) Cloning and functional analysis of Phytophthora infestans RXLR effector, Avr2., 22nd New Phytologist Symposium on Effectors in Plant-Microbe Interactions, INRA Versailles Research Centre, Paris, France, 13-16 September 2009 (Poster).
  • Thirugnanasambandam, A.; Wright, K.M.; Havis, N.D.; Whisson, S.C.; Atkins, S.D.; Newton, A.C. (2009) Role of seed-borne infection in rhynchosporium and ramularia epidemics in barley., HGCA, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, May 2009 (Poster).
  • Thirugnanasambandam, A.; Wright, K.M.; Havis, N.D.; Whisson, S.C.; Atkins, S.D.; Newton, A.C. (2008) Role of seed-borne infection in rhynchosporium and ramularia epidemics in barley., HGCE, PhD Symposium, NIAB, Cambridge, 2 May 2008 (Talk & Poster).
  • Avrova, A.O.; Boevink, P.; Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; van West, P.; Birch, P.R.J.; Whisson, S.C. (2007) Transient gene silencing – a step forward in identifying novel pathogenicity factors in the late blight pathogen., BSPP Presential Meeting, University of Bath, 12-14 September 2007 (Poster).
  • Armstrong, M.R.; Whisson, S.C.; Birch, P.R.J. (2007) Yeast 2 hybrid screening as a method for the identification of plant targets of oomycete effector protein Avr3a., BSPP Presential Meeting, University of Bath, 12-14 September 2007 (Poster).
  • Morales, J.; Whisson, S.C.; Avrova, A.O.; Armstrong, M.R.; Kamoun, S.; Birch, P.R.J. (2007) Screening potato genotypes for responses to RXLR class effector genes from Phytophthora infestans., 13th International Congress on Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, Sorrento, Italy, 21-26 July 2007 (Poster).
  • Armstrong, M.R.; Whisson, S.C.; Pritchard, L.; Bos, J.I.B.; Venter, E.; Avrova, A.O.; Rehmany, A.P.; Huang, S.; Kamoun, S.; Beynon, J.; Birch, P.R.J. (2005) An ancestral oomycete locus contains late blight avirulence gene Avr3a, encoding a protein that is recognised in the host cell cytoplasm., Molecular Plant Microbe Interactions Conference, Merida, Mexico, 14-19 December 2005 (Poster).
  • Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; Bruce, C.R.; Avrova, A.O.; Whisson, S.C.; Williams, A.; Birch, P.R.J.; van West, P. (2004) Functional characterisation of a cellulose synthase from P. infestans throught proteomics and RNA-interference., Molecular Biology of Fungal Pathogens XV, Gregynog, Wales, 17-19 July 2004, 12 (Poster).
  • Avrova, A.O.; Whisson, S.C.; Young, V.; Armstrong, M.R.; Grenville, L.J.; van West, P.; Birch, P.R.J. (2004) Functional analysis of Phytophthora infestans genes., Molecular Biology of Fungal Pathogens XV, Gregynog, Wales, 17-19 July 2004, 10 (Poster).
  • Whisson, S.C.; Avrova, A.O.; Venter, E.; Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; van West, P.; Birch, P.R.J. (2003) Stage-specific gene transcription in Phytophthora infestans prior to and during the early stags of potato infection., XII Fungal Genetics Conference, Pacific Grove, California, 18-23 March 2003 (Poster).
  • Whisson, S.C.; Armstrong, M.R.; Avrova, A.O.; Birch, P.R.J. (2003) Physical mapping and positional cloning of avirulence genes in Phytophthora infestans., 8th International Congress of Plant Pathology, Christchurch, New Zealand, 2-7 February 2003 (Poster).
  • Avrova, A.O.; Whisson, S.C.; Grenville-Briggs, L.J.; van West, P.; Birch, P.R.J. (2003) Appressorium and germinating cyst-specific gene discovery in Phytophthora infestans., BSPP Presidential Meeting, University of Nottingham, 15-18 December 2003 (Poster).
  • Whisson, S.C.; Armstrong, M.R.; Kamoun, S.; Rehmany, A.; Beynon, J.; Avrova, A.O.; Birch, P.R.J. (2003) A candidate AVr3 gene from Phytophthora infestans., BSPP Presidential Meeting, University of Nottingham, 15-18 December 2003 (Poster).
  • Whisson, S.C.; Avrova, A.O.; Birch, P.R.J. (2003) Physical mapping of the Phytophthora infestans genome., 11th International Congress on Molecular Plant-microbe Interactions, St. Petersburg, Russia, 18-26 July 2003 (Poster).