Plant-pathogen Coevolution

Our research aims to understand the genetic, evolutionary and ecological processes driving adaptation of plants to their biotic and abiotic environment. Thereby we focus specifically on plant-pathogen coevolution, that is the evolution of the plant immune system in response to changing pathogen (viruses, bacteria, fungi) populations, and investigate the impact of various environmental conditions (salt, drought, metalliferous soils) on these processes.

Deciphering this interplay of biotic and abiotic stress responses in plants is of importance to understanding the impact of climate change on species persistence and adaptation, in particular for species occurring in fragmented and/or anthropogenic habitats such as industrial, polluted sites. We therefore focus on naturally occurring plant populations, which cover diverse habitat ranges and/or grow in anthropogenically influenced habitats.

Our current main project investigates the role of heavy metals in plant disease resistance and the interplay between adaptation to abiotic stress imposed by heavy metals in the environment and pathogen resistance in plants accumulating heavy metals. Other research projects aim to investigate the impact of coevolution with bacterial and fungal pathogens on plant genome evolution using as model systems wild tomato species, which occur in mesic to arid conditions in South America.

To tackle these questions, we integrate different fields of biology and employ a diverse range of state-of-the-art experimental and bioinformatics approaches including population genetics/genomics, transcriptomics, experimental evolution, biochemical assays and plant-microbial bioassays. Students thus have the opportunity to acquire skills in various molecular, biochemical, computational and ecological techniques. 

According to the elemental defence hypothesis (Boyd and Martens 1992) accumulated heavy metals can provide defence against herbivores and pathogens in metal accumulating plants.
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