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Chloroplast immunity – a novel and key process attacked by pathogens

School of Life Sciences

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Prof M Grant , Dr A Jones No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Crop losses due to biotic stress contribute disproportionately to yield losses, generally accounting for ~25% of the crop. Thus, developing novel approaches to restricting pathogen infections of crops and consequently yields must be a key futurey objective.

We recently discovered that the chloroplast is a key battlefield plant defence responses (de Torres et al. 2015). Aside from its ability to fix carbon, chloroplasts play a central role in integrating multiple environmental stimuli. As a main site of primary carbon metabolism and synthesis of the hormone precursors, the chloroplast represents a prime target for pathogen manipulation.

We have shown that the chloroplast responds to recognition of conserved pathogen motifs (non-self) by generating a burst of reactive oxygen species (ROS). To overcome this successful pathogens deliver proteins (effectors) to suppress ROS. A range of pathogens (bacterial, oomycete and fungal) suppress this by reconfiguring expression of nuclear encoded plant genes and delivering effectors into the chloroplast to attenuate ROS production. More recent work has shown that the chloroplast it central to effective “gene-for-gene” (classic) resistance and even for generating long distance signals to activate systemic immunity. This project builds on these findings and the successful applicant will be at the forefront of research into understanding chloroplast immunity.

This multidisciplinary project will use proteomics, cell biology and genetic approaches to address the mechanistic basis of chloroplast mediated immunity. We will use new genetically encoded reporter lines to visualise the dynamics of ROS production and its suppression in real time during the infection process. We will use novel reporter lines to see how the chloroplast communicates with other organelles in the cell (mitochondria, ER, nucleus) during the infection process. And we will use both targeted and untargeted proteomic approaches to understand how chloroplast proteins are manipulated in this process, utilising the state-of-the-art proteomics facility in SLS.

The project will suit an enthusiastic and motivated student excited about making novel discoveries.
Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:
- Microbiology – culturing bacterial and fungi, generating new bacterial lines with modified effectors, fundamental plant pathology techniques.
- Whole plant imaging and data quantification using chlorophyll fluorescence, a key workhorse in monitoring chloroplast integrity.
- Confocal imaging of traditional fluorescent and genetically encoded redox reporters.
- Targeted and untargeted proteomics.
- Basic plant genetics, developing mutant lines and selecting homozygous transgenic lines.

Funding Notes

Studentship includes: fees, a tax-free stipend of at least £15,009 p.a (to rise in line with UKRI recommendation); a travel allowance in year 1; a travel / conference budget; a generous consumables budget and use of a MacBook Pro for the duration of the programme. In order to apply you must ensure that you are eligible.


de Torres-Zabala, et al. (2015) Photosynthesis is central to plant defence and pathogen effectors target the chloroplast Nature Plants doi:10.1038/nplants.2015.74

Serrano et al. (2016) Chloroplasts at work during plant innate immunity. Journal of Experimental Botany, doi:10.1093/jxb/erw088
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