Simon Williams

Research background

I completed my PhD from Flinders University in late 2009, where I developed protein expression and biochemistry approaches to characterise the activation mechanisms of plant disease resistance proteins. I subsequently moved to the University of Queensland, where I focused on using structural biology approaches to understand the interactions between plants and pathogenic microbes at a structural level. I spent ~6 years at UQ and was involved in some really exciting work in the plant-microbe interaction field, detailing some of the first protein structures of plant disease resistance proteins. In late 2015, I was awarded an ARC DECRA fellowship and joined the plant-microbe interaction theme in Plant Sciences, RSB in 2016.

Research interests

I consider myself a Plant Structural Immunologist. I use protein biochemistry and structural biology approaches to understand how plant pathogens cause disease and how the plant immune system prevents infection. I really want my research career to maintain a plant focus. This is likely a result of my background. I was raised on a dairy farm and I still have strong connections to farming and rural communities. I believe that the biggest impact one can have on human health is by studying plants and developing new technologies in agriculture. My current fellowship work aims to understand how fungal necrotrophic pathogens of wheat cause disease. Recently, we have solved some novel protein structures from both the fungus and the plant and these are directing our studies in wheat.

What do you enjoy most about research?

As a structural biologist we seek to understand what proteins look like, with the premise that this information will inform function. In much of my work we have no clues of the proteins function from the protein sequence. Subsequently, when you resolve an unknown structure that has not been seen before it is a really exciting moment! The challenge is to link the structural information to biological function and that often involves collaborations. I’ve been fortunate to work with people from all over the world with different research expertise and cultural backgrounds. These collaborations not only help you answer more interesting and important biological questions they also allow you to grow as a person through the people you meet and work with.