Molecular phytopathology

Many years ago I have fallen in love with a fungus that infects maize and causes smut disease. This fungus, Ustilago maydis, causes large tumors in infected plants, not very appealing to the eye (Figure A) but within a week also induced in small maize seedlings under glasshouse conditions (Figure B). We use this microbe-plant interaction system to understand how fungi manage to infect plants. To establish itself in the plant tissue, U. maydis secretes a battery of mostly completely novel effector proteins. These effectors are used to suppress plant immune responses and reprogram the metabolism of the host to benefit fungal needs. Our goal is to determine where these effectors end up after being secreted, what their molecular function is, how they have evolved in the arms-race between pathogen and host and how their expression is regulated.

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