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Molecular Plant Pathology

Group leader Prof. Martijn Rep

The mission of Molecular Plant Pathology is to unravel the molecular basis of plant disease and disease resistance.

We focus on molecular interactions between plants and pathogens – fungi, bacteria and viruses. Plants possess a basal immune system that limits colonisation by most microbes and viruses. The ability to cause disease by a microbe or virus requires the evasion or suppression of these basal defences. Plants, in turn, have developed a sophisticated ‘second layer’ immune system based on immune receptors that recognize the presence of specific pathogen-derived molecules called avirulence factors.

We have built our international reputation on the interaction between tomato (Solanum esculentum) and the fungus Fusarium oxysporum. Pathogenic strains of this fungus infect roots and then colonise xylem vessels, thereby causing plant wilting. Currently, three resistance genes are used to control Fusarium wilt of tomato. These genes encode plant immune receptors. We have identified one of these resistance genes (I-2) as well as all three avirulence proteins secreted by Fusarium during host colonisation.

Over the last years we have expanded our research to include other crops affected by Fusarium oxysporum and the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. We also investigate diseases caused by bacteria like Black Rot in Cabbage varieties and viruses in including Geminiviruses, and genome evolution in Fusarium oxysporum and the molecular functioning of plant immune receptors.

We are member of The Research School Experimental Plant Sciences and have close collaborations with agricultural companies in several of our projects, which assures knowledge transfer for practical applications of new discoveries.