Master manipulators: How pathogens use effectors to cause disease


Plant diseases are a continuous threat to food production and a major constraint on achieving global food security. 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. Knowledge of the structure and 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 fungal cereal killer Magnaporthe oryzae uses effectors to cause blast disease of grass crops including rice, wheat and barley. The student will characterise a set of newly identified putative effectors of Magnaporthe oryzae using a variety of biochemical and biophysical techniques, including structure determination. The student will identify the host cells targets of selected effectors from plant tissue, and (1) probe the molecular details of interactions using biochemical and structural approaches, (2) investigate the impact of effector mutants (deletion and structure-led point mutation) on the ability of the pathogen to cause disease on plants. Finally, in an alternative approach to studying plant disease, the student will have the opportunity to pursue immune receptor engineering to determine whether the effector/host target interactions determined above can be used to deliver novel disease resistance. The studentship will involve techniques including cutting edge molecular biology, biochemistry, microbiology, proteomics, and structural biology. 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. Further, it is expected they will attend national and international conferences to present their research.


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.

Varden FA, Yoshino K, Saitoh H, Franceshetti M, Kamoun S, Terauchi R & Banfield MJ* (2019) Cross reactivity of a rice NLR immune receptor to effectors from the blast pathogen leads to partial disease resistance. Journal of Biological Chemistry 294: 13006-13016.

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.