Investigating the Pmk1 MAPK cascade in rice blast fungus


The world’s food supply is under pressure from climate change, shortages of water as well as agriculture pests and diseases.

One of the most devastating diseases of rice is caused by blast fungus (Magnaporthe oryzae), which also is the causal agent of the recent wheat blast outbreak in Asia.

Rice blast infections start when spores land on leaf surfaces, attach and germinate. The hydrophobic leaf surface triggers germlings to develop an appressorium, a single celled infection structure that generates enormous turgor pressure required to penetrate the rice leaf surface.
Understanding how appressoria develop is important to devise strategies to prevent rice blast disease and other important cereal diseases.

This project will investigate the role of the mitogen-activated protein kinase, Pmk1, which plays an essential role in appressorium development. Deletion of the PMK1 gene abolishes pathogenicity of the fungus. Very little is known regarding how upstream components of the Pmk1 MAPK pathway are activated, or how the kinase precisely exerts its activity.

The project builds on recent work that has established phosphoproteomic methods for analysing the Pmk1 pathway, revealing its direct targets for the first time (Oses-Ruiz et al., 2021 Nat Microb 6:1383-97).

The project will provide broad training in fungal biology, molecular plant pathology, proteomics, protein biochemistry, molecular genetics and advanced cell biology at one of the premier centres for plant microbe interaction research, The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich.

We seek an ambitious student interested in a journey of intellectual development while analysing of one of the most important signalling pathways for the regulation of fungal virulence, so far described.



DeFalco, T.A., Anne, P., James, S.R., Willoughby, A.C., Schwanke, F., Johanndrees, O., Genolet, Y., Derbyshire, P., Wang, Q., Rana, S., Pullen, A.M., Menke, F.L.H., Zipfel, C., Hardtke, C.S., and Nimchuk, Z.L. (2022). A conserved module regulates receptor kinase signalling in immunity and development. Nat Plants 8, 356-365.

Oses-Ruiz M, Martin-Urdiroz M, Soanes DM, Kershaw MJ, Cruz-Mireles N, Valdovinos-Ponce G, Molinari C, Littlejohn GR, Derbyshire P, Menke, Valent B, Barbara, Menke FLH, Talbot NJ. (2021) A hierarchical transcriptional network controls appressorium-mediated plant infection by the rice blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae. Nature Microbiology 6:1383-97.

Grubb, L.E., Derbyshire, P., Dunning, K.E., Zipfel, C., Monaghan, J. and Menke, F.L.H. (2021). Large-scale identification of ubiquitination sites on membrane-associated proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings. Plant Physiol 185, 1483-1488.

Guo H, Ahn HK, Sklenar J, Huang J, Y Ma Y, Ding P, Menke FLH and Jones JDG (2020). “PhosphorylationRegulated Activation of the Arabidopsis RRS1-R/RPS4 Immune Receptor Complex Reveals Two Distinct Effector Recognition Mechanisms.” Cell Host Microbe 27(5): 769-781 e766.

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.