Understanding the origin and evolutionary history of plant immunity


The fossil record demonstrates that filamentous microbes invaded ancient plant cells with intracellular hyphal structures over 450 million years ago. To this day, a rich diversity of extant land plant taxa continue to be colonized by detrimental and beneficial microbes, yet much of our knowledge has focused on the evolutionarily young angiosperm lineage of flowering plants. To better understand how distantly-related land plants defend themselves against pathogen infection, our group investigates the molecular genetic mechanisms controlling disease resistance in the model liverwort Marchantia polymorpha. In particular, we focus on interactions with fungus-like filamentous oomycete phytopathogens belonging to the genus Phytophthora, which provide a unique platform to compare host responses to infection across distantly-related land plant lineages.

The goal of this project is to investigate the origin and evolutionary history of nonhost resistance strategies that protect the model liverwort M. polymorpha from Phytophthora infection. Using comparative macroevolutionary, molecular genetic, and multi-omics approaches, the candidate will explore widely-conserved and lineage-specific aspects of plant defence that will ultimately inform future efforts to protect crops from harmful pathogens. This multidisciplinary project is based in laboratory of Dr. Phil Carella, located in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the John Innes Centre. This project provides an exciting opportunity to explore disease resistance in the emerging model liverwort M. polymorpha and to develop skills across plant pathology, land plant evolution, microbial virulence, and bioinformatics. Applications are welcomed from students across the biological sciences that are interested in the evolution of plant-pathogen interactions.


Carella, P., Gogleva, A., Hoey, D.J., Bridgen, A.J., Stolze, S.C., Nakagami, H., and Schornack, S. (2019) Conserved biochemical defenses underpin host responses to oomycete infection in an early divergent land plant lineage. Current Biology, 29: P2282-2294E5. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.05.078

Carella, P., Gogleva, A., Tomaselli, M., Alfs, C., and Schornack, S. (2018) Phytophthora palmivora establishes tissue-specific intracellular infection structures in the earliest divergent land plant lineage. PNAS, 115: E3846-E3855. doi: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1717900115

Carella, P., Evangelisti, E., and Schornack, S. (2018) Sticking to it: Phytopathogen effector molecules may converge on evolutionarily conserved host targets in green plants. Current Opinion in Plant Biology, 44: 175-80. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pbi.2018.04.019