Synthetic biology to engineer novel disease resistance in cereal crops

Project

Plants possess a sophisticated innate immune system based on natural resistance (R) genes that detects pathogen attack and activates defences. R genes are an invaluable natural resource that plant breeders rely on to protect crops against devastating diseases such as fungal rusts. However, the R genes deployed in our crops are limited in number and the diseases that they recognise, and are short-lived due to rapid pathogen evolution. This project uses a synthetic biology strategy to generate new R genes that can be deployed in agriculture, and will help reveal the structural and molecular mechanisms underlying R protein function.

Significance

Global food production is under constant threat from devastating plant fungal pathogens. Approximate 16% of worldwide annual crop production is lost due to microbial disease, of which 70-80% is caused by fungal pathogens. This project will help to protect our crops and save the environment through less reliance on toxic fungicides.

What techniques you will learn. You will learn cutting edge synthetic biology techniques including directed evolution, high-throughput yeast library screening, structure-based protein engineering and gene transformation in plants. The project can be tailored to the needs of different students.

Transferable skills. Research and analytical skills, teamwork, communication, time management.