Master manipulators: How pathogens use effectors to cause disease


Plant diseases are a continuous threat to food production. They are a major constraint on achieving global food security against the background of climate change. Many plant diseases are caused by pathogens that deliver proteins known as effectors into host cells to manipulate host function for the benefit of the pathogen. Studying the function of pathogen effector proteins is essential to understanding the fundamental biology underpinning disease, but also provides new opportunities to interfere with disease progression and maintaining healthy plants/crops to feed the world. In this project, the student will investigate how the cereal killer Magnaporthe oryzae uses effectors to cause blast disease of grass crops including rice, wheat and barley. The student will study a set of novel effectors from M. oryzae using a variety of biochemical and biophysical techniques both in vitro and in plant tissue. The student will identify the host cell targets of selected effectors from plants, and (1) probe the details of interactions using biochemical and structural approaches, (2) investigate the impact of mutation (deletion and point mutations) on the ability of the pathogen to cause disease on plants. Further, the student will have the opportunity to pursue immune receptor engineering to determine whether newly identified effector/host target interactions can be used to deliver novel disease resistance. The student will learn experimental techniques including cutting edge molecular biology, biochemistry, microbiology, proteomics, structural biology, and in plant assays. There will also be the opportunity to work with national and international collaborators.

The student will receive expert training in diverse disciplines on a strategically relevant topic, within a stimulating research environment. They will join a team of researchers with shared interests and have access to world-class facilities. The project will appeal to students keen to apply scientific solutions to a global problem with broad significance.

1. Maidment JH, Franceschetti M, Maqbool A, Saitoh H, Jantasuriyarat C, Kamoun S, Terauchi R, & Banfield MJ (2021) Multiple variants of the blast fungus effector AVR-Pik bind the HMA domain of the rice protein OsHIPP19 with high affinity. Journal of Biological Chemistry 296: 100371.

2. De la Concepcion JC, Franceschetti M, Terauchi R, Kamoun S & Banfield MJ (2019) Protein engineering expands the effector recognition profile of a rice NLR immune receptor. eLife 8: e47713.

3. De la Concepcion JC, Franceschetti M, Maqbool A, Saitoh H, Terauchi R, Kamoun S & Banfield MJ (2018) Polymorphic residues in rice NLRs expand binding and response to effectors of the blast pathogen. Nature Plants 4: 576-585.

Each of these papers includes a previous Banfield Lab PhD student as first author.