Crop pathogen immunity

Pathogens and pests threaten global food security by limiting crop production. To defend against invading organisms, plants possess sophisticated multi-layered immune systems.

Adapted pathogens and pests, however, have evolved intricate mechanisms to bypass the plant immune system to cause disease. Our group’s objective is to comprehensively understand the function and evolution of plant immune receptors, particularly nucleotide-binding and leucine-rich repeat receptors (NLRs), and the strategies employed by pathogens and pests to subvert plant defences.

We focus on plant parasitic nematodes (Globodera sp. And Meloidogyne sp.) as they are an economically important group of organisms that are understudied. By gaining this knowledge, we aim to develop innovative strategies for disease resistance, ultimately enhancing crop protection and ensuring food security.

Research areas

How do sensor and helper NLRs function together?

NLRs represent one of the most fast-evolving gene families in plants. They recognize highly variable pathogen-specific effectors to mediate a robust immune response. NLRs can function individually or in higher-order configurations, such as pairs or networks. In solanaceous plants, the NLR – required for cell death (NRC) network mediates resistance against diverse pathogens by connecting sensor NLRs, that encode classical disease resistance genes, and cell surface receptors, to helper NLRs of the NRC clade.

The determinants of sensor – helper specificity in NLR networks are unknown. We will carry out comparative genetic and biochemical studies of orthologous sensor and orthologous helper NLRs that carry distinct specificity spectrums. We will use this knowledge to decipher the molecular mechanisms that underpin sensor – helper interactions and determine how these NLRs function together to confer disease resistance.

How do NLR networks contribute to immunity in roots?

Roots are vital plant organs that encounter a high density of microorganisms and serve as crucial entry points for soilborne pathogens. Despite their significance, our understanding of the root immune system and its mechanism of initiating defense responses remains limited. We aim to explore the contribution of NLR networks in providing immunity against root infecting pathogens (e.g. nematodes).

We will focus on helper NLRs, as they are essential for immune function and are often highly expressed in root tissue, however, their involvement in mediating immunity against root-infecting pathogens remains largely uninvestigated.

How do pathogens interfere with NLR mediated immunity?

Pathogens secrete an array of effectors to perturb plant immune responses and promote virulence. Effectors, therefore, serve as critical markers of vulnerability within the plant immune system and can be utilized as “probes” to investigate and characterize essential components and cellular functions involved in plant-pathogen interactions.

We aim to unravel the molecular mechanisms that underlie the functions of effector suppressors, thereby gaining insights into the principles and evolutionary dynamics that govern plant immunity. This knowledge can then be leveraged to guide new approaches for disease resistance breeding to maximise crop protection, for example, by engineering NLRs that evade pathogen suppression.

About the group leader

Lida received her PhD in plant breeding and plant pathology at the University of Sydney, Australia, where she identified and characterized rust resistance genes in cultivated barley. After completing her PhD, she joined the University of California, Davis, USA, as a postdoctoral researcher working in comparative genomics of downy mildews.

Following this, Lida was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie independent fellowship to undertake research at The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich, UK. Lida is currently head of the Crop Pathogen Immunity group at the Crop Science Centre. Her research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms pathogens use to perturb resistance mediated by plant intracellular immune receptor networks.

Led by

Lida Derevnina

Lida Derevnina

Head of Crop Pathogen Immunity Group

Research group staff

Jing Hou

Jing Hou

Academic Visitor

Junior Lusu Kika

Junior Lusu Kika

PhD student

Unnati Sonawala

Unnati Sonawala

Postdoctoral research associate

Christopher Stephens

Christopher Stephens

Research assistant

Other research groups

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Led by Kostya Kanyuka

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Tally Wright

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Led by Tally Wright

The quantitative genetics research group focuses on how genetic variation between different crop accessions can influence their phenotypes, particularly for traits controlled by many genes.

Johannes Kromdijk

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This group studies the physiology of photosynthesis and its interactions with environmental drivers such as light, water, temperature and CO2 with the ultimate aim to improve crop productivity and water use efficiency.

Stéphanie Swarbreck

Crop Molecular Physiology

Led by Stéphanie Swarbreck

Crop Molecular Physiology group researches nitrogen responsiveness at the gene, the whole plant and the plot level, in order to discover and select crop varieties with a low nitrogen requirement and well adapted to regenerative agriculture practises.

Phil Howell

Crop Genetic Resources

Led by Phil Howell

Our research group carries out the development and characterisation of existing and new crop genetic resources, drawing on NIAB’s experience in genetics, pre-breeding, field testing and tissue culture.

Ji Zhou

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Natasha Yelina

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Led by Natasha Yelina

Novel breeding technologies in legume crops to enhance the production of new cultivars adapted to changing climatic conditions, as well as having sustainable yields.

Jeongmin Choi

Crop resilience

Led by Jeongmin Choi

As sessile organisms, plants have evolved sophisticated mechanisms to help cope with environmental stress.

Uta Paszkowski

Cereal symbiosis

Led by Uta Paszkowski

The mutually beneficial arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis is the most widespread association between roots of terrestrial plants and fungi of the Glomeromycota.

Giles Oldroyd

Sustainable crop nutrition

Led by Giles Oldroyd

The availability of sources of nitrogen and phosphorus are major limitations to crop productivity. This is primarily addressed through the application of inorganic fertilisers to augment these limiting nutrients.

Sebastian Eves-van den Akker

Plant-parasitic interactions

Led by Sebastian Eves-van den Akker

Combining genomics and molecular biology to understand fundamental questions in host:parasite biology

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