Independent Minds, Working Together

William Morgan

General Area of Research:

Genomic analysis of a plant pathogen

Project Description:

To establish a successful infection, a pathogen must manipulate the host for its own ends. Many pathogens alter host activities by transporting pathogen proteins into the host cell. So far, the function of only a handful of these proteins have been determined. For example, some host-targeted proteins have been found to suppress the main defense system of infected plant cells. However, the function of pathogen proteins transported into the host cell remains largely unknown. Phytophthora infestans causes late blight of tomato and potato. This devastating plant pathogen was responsible for the Irish potato famine in the 1840's and still causes billions of dollars of crop losses annually (reviewed in Kamoun and Smart, 2005). A detailed understanding of the molecular interactions between Phytophthora infestans and its plant hosts should lead to better means for control of this and related pathogens. My lab is using the exceptional power of yeast functional genomics to explore the function of pathogen effector proteins. A preliminary step is to identify pathogen proteins that cause mild to severe toxicity in yeast, presumably as a result of altering a biological pathway conserved in the natural host. After genetically engineering yeast cells to express individual pathogen proteins, we have found several strains that inhibit growth. During the summer research period, a student would conduct transcriptome studies to identify which yeast genes are transcribed at higher or lower levels in the presence of the pathogen protein. This approach, combined with others, should ultimately reveal the biological pathway blocked by this pathogen protein. Subsequent experiments can be performed to confirm that this same pathway is blocked during infection of the natural plant host.

Related Majors:

Biology, BCMB

Skills/Classes Required:

BIOL306 Genes and Genomes or BCMB 303 Techniques in BCMB