Williams Group - Plant structural immunology

Our primary research objective is to understand the molecular basis of the interactions between plant hosts and the microorganisms, particularly fungi, that colonise them.

To do this we use molecular biology, protein biochemistry/biophysics and structural biology approaches.

Our research encompasses two broad themes

Theme 1: Plant immunity receptors - We want to understand how extracellular and intracellular immunity receptors in plants detect and respond to the recognition of effector (virulence) proteins from plant pathogens. This knowledge will be critical to understand the function of these receptors during resistance responses. It will also inform future gene-editing/genetic engineering approaches to manipulate and enhance plant disease resistance.

Theme 2: Pathogen effector (virulence) proteins - We want to understand how pathogen effector proteins perturb and/or activate defence pathways. To date, we have a poor understanding of effector virulence function, particularly in eukaryotic pathogens. I’m currently tackling this fundamental knowledge gap by studying multiple model and commercially relevant pathosystems.



Simon Williams

Simon Williams
My main research interest is plant immunity, with a focus on using structural biology and protein biochemistry to understand...


Open to students


Selected publications

Theme 1:

  1. Williams SJ, et al (2014). Structural basis for assembly and function of a heterodimeric plant immune receptor. Science. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/344/6181/299
  2. Casey L, et al (2016). The CC domain structure from the wheat stem rust resistance protein Sr33 challenges paradigms for dimerization in plant NLR proteins. PNAS.
  3. Zhang X, et al (2017) Multiple functional self-association interfaces in plant TIR domains. PNAS. http://www.pnas.org/content/114/10/E2046
  4. Williams SJ, et al (2011) An autoactive mutant of the M flax rust resistance protein has a preference for binding ATP, while wild-type M protein has a preference for binding ADP. MPMI, https://apsjournals.apsnet.org/doi/abs/10.1094/MPMI-03-11-0052

Theme 2:

  1. Zhang X, et al (2018) Crystal structure of the Melampsora lini effector AvrP reveals insights into a possible nuclear function and recognition by the flax disease resistance protein P. MPP https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mpp.12597
  2. Zhang X, et al (2017) Production of small cysteine-rich effector proteins in Escherichia coli for structural and functional studies. MPP. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mpp.12385
  3. Breen S, et al (2016) Wheat PR-1 proteins are targeted by necrotrophic pathogen effector proteins. Plant Journal. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/tpj.13228
  4. Ve T, et al (2013) Structures of the flax-rust effector AvrM reveal insights into the molecular basis of plant-cell entry and effector-triggered immunity. PNAS. http://www.pnas.org/content/110/43/17594

News & events


With much excitement the Williams group is open for business in the Research School of Biology, Division of Plant Sciences.


Simon Williams

Research background

Updated:  16 August 2018/Responsible Officer:  Director RSB/Page Contact:  Webmaster RSB