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Dr Sonia Humphris

Cell and Molecular Sciences
Molecular Bacteriologist
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

Molecular Bacteriologist and Manager of Scotland's Plant Health Centre 

Sonia's research focus is on the bacterial plant pathogens Pectobacterium and Dickeya species that are responsible for blackleg and soft rot disease on potato.  Her key interest is the pathogenicity and epidemiology of these potato pathogens and understanding the interactions between them and their hosts. 

Sonia is the manager of Scotland’s Plant Health Centre (, a multi-organisation virtual Centre of Expertise led by the James Hutton Institute and funded by the Scottish Government through RESAS (Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division). Working with the Chief Plant Health Officer for Scotland, Professor Gerry Saddler from SASA, the Centre brings the plant sectors for forestry, horticulture, environment and agriculture together to co-ordinate plant health knowledge, skills, needs and activities across Scotland.

Current research interests

Current projects include RESAS supported research (2022-2027 Strategic Research Programme: JHI-A1-1 Epidemiology of Key Pests and Diseases; JHI-A1-2 Integrated Crop Protection) to inform on the epidemiology, and methods for the control of, potato blackleg caused by Pectobacterium atrosepticum in Scotland. 

Working in collaboration with industry, we are investigating the application of biocontrol (Innovate UK Farming Innovation Pathways project IUK10005717) and other soil amendments (RESAS JHI-D3-1 Healthy Soils For A Green Recovery) to investigate impacts to blackleg disease progression as well as neighbouring soil and rhizosphere microbial communities (microbiomes).

Past research

  • 2019-2022: AHDB Postgraduate Studentship Award. Applications of machine learning to precision potato blackleg prediction. 
  • 2018-2020: Innovate UK Funding. Targeted innovation in the seed potato industry to improve productivity and quality.
  • 2018-2020:  Royal Society.  The role of expansins during plant infection by Pectobacterium species.
  • 2017-2020:  Scottish Government Funding.  Modifying the Scottish seed potato classification scheme to achieve greater control of blackleg. 
  • 2017-2020:  AHDB Funding.  Improved seed management to minimise losses due to Pectobacterium species. 
  • 2013-2016:  Potato Council Funding.   Routes of blackleg contamination of high grade potato seed stocks by Pectobacterium species and the effects of sulphuric acid treatment on pathogen spread.

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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.