Investigating effector function in the rice blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae


Rice blast disease is one of the most serious diseases affecting rice cultivation around the world, destroying enough rice each year to feed 60 million people.

The disease is caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae, which also threatens wheat and millet production, affecting Asia and Africa in particular.

During plant infection, the rice blast fungus deploys a large repertoire of effector proteins that enable it to suppress host immunity and proliferate rapidly in plant tissue, overwhelming the host plant and causing disease. These effectors are specifically expressed when the fungus grow in plant tissue, but the host proteins that they target and the biological processes that they affect are largely unknown.

This project will identify plant proteins that are targeted by effector proteins using immuno-precipitation and tandem mass spectrometry and then carry out structural analysis of interacting protein complexes using X-ray crystallography.

We will functionally characterise plant proteins by analysing mutants in rice to determine their role in host immunity. In parallel, we will functionally characterise effector proteins by generating corresponding deletion mutants in the blast fungus and determining their role in fungal pathogenesis.

The project will provide broad training in molecular genetics, protein biochemistry, structural biology, informatics and molecular plant pathology. Intellectually, the project provides a challenge in understanding how effector proteins contribute to fungal pathogenesis and how this knowledge could be deployed for effective and sustainable disease control.



1. Ryder LS, Cruz-Mireles N, Molinari C, Eisermann, I, Eseola AB, Talbot NJ (2022) The appressorium at a glance. Journal of Cell Science 135: 259837.

2. Osés-Ruiz, M., Cruz-Mireles, N., Martin-Urdiroz, M., Soanes, D.M., Eseola, A.B., Tang, B., Derbyshire, P., Nielsen, M., Cheema, J., Were, V.M., Eisermann, I., Kershaw, M.J., Yan, X., Valdovinos-Pince, G., Molinari, C., Littlejohn, G.R., Valent, B., Menke, F., Talbot N.J. (2021) Appressorium-mediated plant infection is regulated by a Pmk1-dependent hierarchical transcriptional network. Nature Microbiol. 6: 1383-97. (Plant Health ISP; Sustainably enhancing agricultural production).

3. Mutiga S.K., Rotich F., Were V.M., Kimani J,. Mwongera D.T., Mgonja E., Onaga G., Konaté K., Razanaboahirana C., Bigirimana J., Ndayiragije A., Gichuhi E., Telebacnco-Yanoria M.J., Otipa M., Wasilwa L., Ouedraogo I., Mitchell T., Wang G.L., Correll J., Talbot N.J. (2021) Integrated strategies for durable rice blast resistance in sub-Saharan Africa. Plant Disease. 105: 2749-2770 (Plant Health ISP; Sustainably enhancing agricultural production).

4. He M, Su J, Xu Y, Chen J, Chern M, Lei M, Qi T, Wang Z, Ryder LS, Tang B, Osés-Ruiz M, Zhu K, Cao Y, Yan X, Eisermann I, Luo Y, Li W, Wang J, Yin J, Lam SM, Peng G, Sun X, Zhu X, Ma B, Wang J, Liu J, Qing H, Song L, Wang L, Hou Q, Qin P, Li Y, Fan J, Li D, Wang Y, Wang X, Jiang L, Shui G, Xia Y, Gong G, Huang F, Wang W, Wu X, Li P, Zhu L, Li S, Talbot NJ, Chen X. (2020) Discovery of broad-spectrum fungicides that block septin-dependent infection processes of pathogenic fungi. Nature Microbiol 5:1565-1575. (Plant Health ISP: Sustainably enhancing agricultural production).

5. Ryder LS, Dagdas YF, Kershaw MJ, Venkataraman, C, Madzvamuse, A., Yan, X., Cruz-Mireles, N., Soanes, DM, Osés-Ruiz, M, Styles, V, Menke, FLH, Talbot, NJ. (2019) A sensor kinase controls turgor-driven plant infection by the rice blast fungus. Nature. 574:423-427 (Plant Health ISP: Sustainably enhancing agricultural production).