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Ian Toth

Staff picture: Ian Toth
Cell and Molecular Sciences
Cell and Molecular Sciences
Senior Scientist
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK


Theme 2 representative (James Hutton Institute) for the Scottish Government-funded Science Research Programme.

Current research interests

  • Molecular bases of pathogenesis in the enterobacterial potato pathogens Pectobacterium and Dickeya species, and the eucalyptus pathogen Pantoea ananatis using functional and comparative genomics approaches.
  • Pba and Dickeya species in the environment and the epidemiology of disease.
  • The interaction between human enteric pathogens and plants and the role of these plants in the spread of disease.
  • I am a key staff member leading Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPM) research at the James Hutton Institute. For details of ongoing IPM research areas and projects, please visit the IPM@hutton website.

Past research

The Bacteriology Group at the Institute is led by Nicola Holden and I, with a focus on human/animal and plant enterobacterial pathogens, respectively. The plant pathogens team includes Sonia Humphris (post doc), Emma Campbell and Lauren Watts who, along with a variety of students and visitors, do most of the work.

Within the family Enterobacteriaceae, a wide range of bacteria cause disease on humans, animals and plants. Human and animal pathogens include E. coli and Salmonella species, while plant pathogens include species of PectobacteriumDickeya and Pantoea. In the plant pathogens team we work on all of these pathogens. However, our main research focus is on the pathogenesis and control of Pectobacterium species (including P. brasiliense and P. wasabiae but mainly the potato pathogen P. atrosepticum [Pba]), and Dickeya species (including D. dianthicola and D. solani).  Much of our research is funded by the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environmental Sciences and Analytical Services (RESAS) and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

Pectobacterium and Dickeya: The soft rot pathogens Pectobacterium and Dickeya spp. cause disease on a number of crops and ornamentals worldwide, including blackleg diseases of potatoes in the field and soft rots of tubers in storage. It is particularly important to reduce or prevent the incidences of such diseases, which  is particularly important in Scotland due to the high health status of its potato seed industry. We undertake strategic research to identify potential methods of control both through epidemiological and genomics-based studies.  

In 2004 we published the genome sequence of Pba in collaboration with the Sanger Institute in Cambridge (Bell et al. PNAS 2004). This was the first enterobacterial plant pathogen to be sequenced, although a number of others have been sequenced since (Pritchard et al. 2013), and with the development of a powerful new comparative genomics visualisation tool – GenomeDiagram  (Pritchard et al 2005), microarrays and many great collaborations we have discovered new insights into the genome structure and function (Pritchard et al. 2009; Vanga et al. 2015), regulation (Lin et al. 2010; Liu et al 2008; Yang et al. 2009) lifestyle (Toth et al. 2006), and especially the pathogenicity (Cubitt et al. 2013; McNally et al 2012; Monson et al. 2013; Tan et al. 2014; Wang et al. 2016) of this important group of bacteria. The genomics work has also been instrumental in redefining the taxonomy of Pectobacterium and Dickeya species (Pritchard et al. 2016) and in the development new a genome-based molecular diagnostic method for bacteria in general (Pritchard 2013).  

In parallel to the genomics work we also work closely with the potato industry and other scientists to identify ways to control Pectobacterium and Dickeya spp. through a better understanding of the aetiology and epidemiology of disease, on-farm monitoring, field and glasshouse trials, the use of our new typing and detection methods, and novel modelling strategies (Parkinson et al. 2015; Skelsey et al. 2016).    

Pantoea ananatis: Pantoea ananatis, a pathogen of several crops including onion, maize and eucalyptus, is also being investigated as part of ongoing collaboration with Prof. Teresa Coutinho and colleagues at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, where I have an honorary Professorship.  This has included publishing the P. ananatis genome sequence, which was the first bacterial phytopathogen to be sequenced in Africa (De Maayer et al. 2010, 2014), and we have gone on to investigate aspects of pathogenesis in this species (Shyntum et al. 2014, 2015; Weller-Stuart et al. 2016).  

E. coli and Salmonella: Our research on the above plant pathogens, particularly through a comparative genomics study of these and the human / animal enteric pathogens (Toth et al. 2006), ties in closely with the work of Nicola Holden, who is investigating the interactions between the human/animal enterobacterial pathogens Salmonella spp. and E. coli and plants. This has led to a collaboration to investigate the interaction of human and plant pathogens with plant cell walls (Crozier et al. 2016; Holden et al. 2015; Rossez et al. 2014; Wright et al. 2013).    

Other areas of interest: Other smaller but no less interesting areas of research and collaboration include the use of elicitors to control bacterial diseases of horticultural crops (Holden et al. 2012) and Streptomyces scabies secretion systems (Fyans et al. 2013).

Key collaborators:

  • Jiaqin Fan (Nanjing Agricultural University, China)
  • George Sundin (Michigan State University, USA)
  • Ching-Hong Yang (University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, USA)
  • Teresa Coutinho (University of Pretoria, South Africa) 
  • Andrew Pitman (Institute for Plant & Food Research, New Zealand)
  • George Salmond (University of Cambridge, UK)
  • John Elphinstone (Fera, UK)
  • Gerry Saddler (SASA, UK)
  • Stuart Wale (SRUC, UK) 

Related publication


Scientific Posters / Conferences

File A step closer to blackleg control: Genomics opens our eyes to the true nature of Erwinia and its interaction with plants 212.62 KB
File Onward into battle: Dickeya (Erwinia chrysanthemi) gets the upper hand 1.17 MB
File Environmental Change - Impacts on pests and Diseases 725.69 KB
File Characterisation of Effector Proteins Secreted By Erwinia carotovora subsp. atroseptica and Their Role on Host Resistance 103.14 KB
File Characterisation of Effector Proteins Secreted By Erwinia carotovora subsp. atroseptica and Their Role on Host Resistance 262.03 KB
File Post-Genomic Analysis of Erwinia Carotovora Virulence Responses in In Vitro and In Planta Environments 119.48 KB
File Identification Of Novel Erwinia Genes Involved In Disease 133.37 KB
File A whole genome transcriptomics approach to determine the quorum sensing regulon of Pectobacterium atrosepticum during infection 176.37 KB
File Role of Erwinia carotovora subsp. atroseptica harpins in the manipulation of host defences 115.22 KB
File Role of Pectobacterium atrosepticum (Pba) effectors in the manipulation of host defences 414.71 KB
File Genomics approaches uncover an alternative life-style of the plant pathogen Pectobacterium atrosepticum 210.23 KB
File Comparative Genomic Analysis of Erwinia carotovora subsp atroseptica: Evidence For Extensive Horizontal Gene Transfer with Plant Associated Bacteria 613.23 KB
File Comparative and functional genomics identifies major differences between genomic islands in soft rotting enterobacterial plant pathogens 414.25 KB
File Methods to investigate interactions between human pathogenic enterobacteria and plant hosts 235.09 KB
File Prediction of transcription factor binding sites in bacterial genomes: case study with Pectobacterium atrosepticum 405.75 KB
File Phytotoxins produced by Pectobacterium atrosepticum impact multiple defense hormone pathways in potato 479.11 KB
File Quorum sensing and pectin catabolism regulate phytotoxin production in Pectobacterium atrosepticum 344.03 KB
File Quorum sensing regulates novel phytotoxin production in the plant pathogen Pectobacterium atrosepticum 278.9 KB

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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.