PHI-base, the Pathogen-Host Interaction database is an open access internet resource which provides information on pathogenicity, virulence and effector genes from different pathogens, where the contribution of the genes to pathogenicity has been experimentally tested. In addition, at the request of the international community, negative results obtained from well designed and executed experiments have been included. PHI-base also provides information on commercially used drug targets and variant pathogen gene sequences which lead to drug-resistance / drug insensitivity.
Plant Biology and Crop Science
To carry out world-class plant biology and crop science research that delivers new knowledge, innovation and practices that will increase crop productivity and quality and develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.
Research in PBCS contributes to our Institute themes:
- 20:20 Wheat®: Increasing wheat productivity to yield 20 tonnes per hectare in 20 years.
- Cropping Carbon: Optimising carbon capture by grasslands and perennial energy crops, such as Willow, to help underpin the UK's transition to a low carbon economy.
- Designing Seeds: Harnessing our expertise in seed biology and biochemistry to deliver improved health and nutrition through seeds.
- Sustainable Systems: Designing, modelling and assessing sustainable agricultural systems that increase productivity while minimising environmental impact.
The aim of our work is to identify and characterise genetic solutions for the control of take-all disease in wheat. Take-all is a serious root disease of wheat which is a major constraint during consecutive wheat cropping. The disease is caused by the soil dwelling ascomycete fungus Gaeumannomyces graminis var. tritici (Ggt) (Freeman & Ward, 2004). The fungus causes black necrotic lesions in the root tissue which restrict the uptake of water and nutrients from the soil (Figure 1).
Head of Department
Dr Malcolm J Hawkesford
Deputy Head of Department
Dr Peter Eastmond
Cell Walls: Rowan Mitchell, Till Pellny
Photosynthesis and Water Use Efficiency: John Andralojc
Plant Architecture: Andy Phillips, Peter Hedden, Stephen Thomas
Plant Nutrition: Malcolm Hawkesford, Peter Buchner
Plant Pathogens: Kim Hammond-Kosack, Kostya Kanyuka, Jon West
Wheat Quality: Peter Shewry
Oil Quality: Peter Eastmond, Smita Kurup, Alison Huttly
Wheat Transformation: Alison Huttly
Signalling: Nigel Halford
Metabolomics: Mike Beale, Jane Ward
Bioimaging: Smita Kurup
Sugar Beet: Belinda Townsend
Department Press Releases
Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC, submitted an application on 3rd November 2016 to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for permission to carry out GM field trials on the Rothamsted Farm in 2017 and 2018. Scientists at Rothamsted Research, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Essex and Lancaster University, have developed wheat plants that can carry out photosynthesis more efficiently i.e. convert light energy into plant biomass more efficiently. This trait has the potential to result in higher yielding plants.
Septoria leaf blotch is a highly damaging disease of wheat and scientists are looking for ways to manage it more effectively. Most studies have looked directly at the interaction between wheat and Septoria but, in a novel approach, scientists at Rothamsted Research, who are strategically funded by the BBSRC, have instead looked at how plant species that do not get infected by Septoria achieve resistance. Most plants are resistant to the majority of microbes, a phenomenon known as non-host resistance, or NHR.
A recent study found that decreased biodiversity of Pseudomonas, a genus of soil bacteria, is associated with a reduced severity of the fungal disease ‘take-all’ in second year wheat. The work revealed that disease incidence was linked to the wheat variety grown in the first year, and that this also had a profound effect on Pseudomonas species community structure. Now researchers have found that the useful activity of Pseudomonas strains that suppress take-all disease is severely reduced when additional Pseudomonas strains are present.
Since the late 1990s, UK farmers growing barley have seen the yields and quality of their harvests hurt by an emerging disease called Ramularia leaf spot. The disease is caused by the pathogenic fungus Ramularia collo-cygni. Now a team of scientists studying this fungus have sequenced and explored its genome.
In young plants, you can sometimes distinguish cultivated wheat varieties from wild species by their colour. Wild wheat appears either glossy green or a matte bluish-grey, but cultivated varieties are almost always the latter. The bluish-grey colour comes from a waxy film thought to increase yields and protect the plant from environmental stress, particularly drought and diseases. The genes that produce the coating have long eluded researchers, but work by an international team has now revealed them.
Professor Peter Shewry has received the Clyde H. Bailey medal in recognition of his research into the development, structures and composition of the wheat grain. His work at Rothamsted Research focuses on improving wheat quality for human health, particularly on enhancing fibre and phenolic acid content, and performance in milling and bread-making. The medal recognises outstanding achievements in the service of cereal science and technology.
Hyperspectral imaging is potentially one of the most useful tools for high-throughput phenotyping. The spectral signature collected from plant is influenced by pigment, nutrient and water content, as well as leaf and canopy structure. This specificity of the plant spectrum has been used in remote sensing and precision agriculture to estimate plant nutrient and health status as well as predicting yield from spectral indices and/or directly from the full spectrum, making this tool particularly flexible.
High throughput phenotyping aims to screen germplasm for genetic studies including variety or germplasm lines with contrasted architecture. As the plant structure affects the reflected signal, it is necessary to evaluate effect of geometry to compare genetic materials for further biological analysis. The student should have interests in crop biology and ideally in programming (e.g Matlab/Python), although appropriate training will be provided as necessary.
The phytopathogenic fungus Zymoseptoria tritici causes Septoria tritici blotch (STB), a devastating disease of wheat. Resistance against Z. tritici is an important target in wheat breeding and we recently isolated the first resistance gene, Stb6, from wheat. By contrast to the majority of cloned plant disease resistance genes Stb6 confers fungal resistance in the absence of host cell death and encodes an unusual innate immune receptor resembling wall-associated receptor kinases. Using a combination of molecular biology, biochemistry and functional genomic approaches, this project aims to characterise this novel resistance protein and to identify and characterise downstream components of the Stb6-mediated defence signalling pathway which arrest fungal growth. Understanding the molecular mechanism underlying resistance will aid development of future efficient STB disease control strategies. This is an excellent opportunity for a PhD student to work on extremely important fungal pathogen, with clear implications for global food security.
Take-all disease, caused by the soil-borne ascomycete fungus Gaeumannomyces graminis var. tritici (Ggt), is the most damaging root disease of wheat in the UK and worldwide. The fungus invades the roots and destroys the vascular tissue, hindering the plants ability to uptake water and nutrients from the soil. Closely related Phialophora fungal species occur naturally in arable and grassland soils and have considerable potential to suppress take-all disease and to help understand the response of wheat to non-pathogenic / endophytic and pathogenic root invading fungi. The main objective of this project is to understand and characterise the Phialophora-wheat interaction. The infection biology and molecular aspects occurring during root colonisation will be explored using in depth bioimaging analyses and comparative transcriptomic experiments while field trials and controlled environment experiments will be developed to characterise the ability of wheat varieties to sustain Phialophora populations
Sugar signal molecules in plants and crops have a profound effect on growth and development and are an important target in crop improvement. Our lab has established molecular and genetic tools for the modification of an important sugar signal, trehalose 6-phosphate (T6P) in crops. In particular, the development of chemical tools by us in collaboration with Oxford University has produced a flexible system to modulate T6P levels in planta. Using T6P chemical tools in combination with mutant analysis has discovered a new gene for the regulation of flowering time by sugar availability. Flowering time in crops is an important trait that determines the establishment of grain number and duration and extent of grain filling. The student will conduct studies in A. thaliana and wheat in parallel to better characterise the new gene and how it interacts with known flowering and sugars signalling genes. The project will provide genetic and chemical strategies for the selection and modification of flowering time in wheat.
Crop diseases pose one of the most challenging problems for global food productivity and security in the immediate, mid and long term future. The fungus Zymoseptoria tritici is the causal agent of Septoria tritici blotch (STB), which is a major leaf disease of wheat. The genome of Z. tritici is fully sequenced, compact (<40Mb) and gene rich, and the fungus is highly amenable to simple laboratory mutagenesis techniques. Despite this, relatively few genes are currently known to play key roles in the virulence of Z. tritici on wheat. In addition, some wheat plants are fully resistant to certain fungal strains but it remains completely unknown what resistant plants recognise in an avirulent strain. This project will use a new “mutagenomics” approach to identify novel fungal virulence and/or avirulence genes which may represent future fungicide targets or be useful in the breeding and selection of wheat with improved disease resistance.
Take-all disease, caused by the soil-borne fungus Gaeumannomyces graminis var. tritici (Ggt), is the most damaging root disease of wheat worldwide. Grain yield losses of between 10-20% are common in the UK, but can be as much as 60%. The disease-weather relationship is poorly understood and hinders the ability to explain take-all epidemics and forecast disease trends. The main objective of this project is to use existing data from long-term and multi-site experiments to develop and validate both empirical and mechanistic models that improve the fundamental understanding of the development of take-all disease, yield loss and the disease-weather relationship, while also allowing for agronomic factors such as varietal differences. These models will ultimately be combined to explain long term disease trends, predict the risk of severe take-all developing and identify the future importance of take-all under climate change scenarios.