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The negative signalling crosstalk between plant immunity and the cell cycle

Principal Supervisor: Dr Patrick Schäfer - School of Life Sciences

Co-supervisor: Dr Alex Jones and Dr Miriam Gifford - School of Life Science

PhD project title: The negative signalling crosstalk between plant immunity and the cell cycle

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

Enhancing plant immunity against pathogens is of outstanding importance to sustain food security. One significant limitation towards this aim is our lack of understanding of why immunity (activated to stop attacking pathogens) inhibits plant growth and, hence, reduces yield. Our studies now indicated that the underlying crosstalk is based on the conflicting signalling between cell cycle regulation (and, hence, growth) and immunity and that we can overcome the crosstalk.

A key process of growth is cell division that is regulated by the cell cycle. We observed that immunity inhibits the cell cycle, suggesting that plants prioritise immunity over growth under pathogen attack. It further suggests that promoting cell cycle can overcome the crosstalk between growth and immunity. In nature, beneficial root symbionts such as the fungus Piriformospora indica protect plants against pathogens and promote plant growth at the same time. Interestingly, we found that when we promoted the cell cycle by inducing growth-promoting P. indica symbiosis or overexpressing a cell cycle regulator, we could overcome the crosstalk between growth and immunity. Importantyl, our findings equip us with unique experimental systems to identify molecular mechanisms that regulate the cell cycle/growth under immunity.

In this project you will use plants colonised by P. indica or overexpressing the identified cell cycle regulator to identify growth regulators that are inhibited by immunity. You will do RNAseq of plant roots as well as a state-of-the-art proteome-based screen to identify genes and proteins, respectively, that regulate growth under immunity. You will apply cell biological and biochemical assays to validate the molecular function of identified genes and proteins in regulating the crosstalk in Arabidopsis and Brassica crops .

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Food Security

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

Supervised by internationally recognised scientists, the PhD student will apply:

  • RNA sequencing
  • Yeast two-hybrid
  • Tandem mass spectrometry
  • Protein immunoprecipitation
  • Live cell imaging (e.g. confocal laser-scanning microscopy)
  • Analyses of RNAseq data
  • In silico prediction of gene/protein functions and network modelling

Contact: Dr Patrick Schäfer, University of Warwick