Research interests: genomics, bioinformatics, systems biology, evolutionary biology, plant-microbe interactions, plant biotechnology
Current project: Comparative functional genomics and biochemistry of plant-pathogen interactions
There is an invisible battle that takes place at the molecular level during infection of plants (and animals) by pathogens. I am interested in identifying what weapons are used by both sides and how the evolutionary arms race between plant and pathogen has resulted in amazing diversification in form and function of these microscopic arsenals.
Some of the weapons that pathogens use are known as effectors, secreted proteins that suppress the plant immune system. I am studying effectors from the pathogen Bremia lactucae, the causative agent of lettuce downy mildew in the Michelmore lab at UC Davis. Our lab has recently sequenced the genome of this pathogen, and I am using several different computational strategies for predicting candidate effector genes.
In addition to contributing to our understanding of the mechanisms of pathogenesis, the study of effectors will be useful for breeding disease resistance in lettuce. In a resistant plant, effectors are recognized by certain receptors encoded by R genes (resistance genes), which leads to localized cell death and prevents the spread of the pathogen. Once effector genes are identified, they can be heterologously expressed in lettuce and screened for localized cell death to identify new sources of resistance.