Plant Fungi Interactions
Research on Plant Fungi Interactions was initiated in the early 1990s with an extensive screening for novel antimicrobial plant peptides, and resulted in the discovery of several types of novel antifungal proteins. On one of them, named the plant defensins (PDFs), pioneering research was continued. PDFs are small, basic, cysteine-rich antifungal peptides that are structurally related to insect and mammalian defensins. They are active against a broad range of phytopathogenic fungi (e.g. Botrytis cinerea, Fusarium spp., Alternaria spp.) and even human pathogens (e.g. Candida albicans and Aspergillus flavus), whereas they are nontoxic to plant and mammalian cells.
Primarily based on PDFs studies, research at PFI was further developed in the late 1990s in two closely collaborating research units, focussed on either side of the plant-fungus interaction, being the Plant Unit and the Fungus/Yeast Unit, respectively. Only the first unit is associated VIB (Department of Plant Systems Biology) and as such further described below. The Fungus/Yeast Unit studies the mode of action of mode of action of bioactive peptides (including PDFs) and small molecules, and uses yeast platforms as model systems for higher eukaryotes.
In our Plant Unit, the discovery of different types of PDFs in Arabidopsis thaliana significantly stimulated our research on their expression and function. For example, the discovery of the plant defensin AtPDF1.2a and the corresponding signaling pathways involved in its induction broadened the general insight in induced defense mechanisms in plants. The corresponding gene is now world-wide used as a marker for ethylene/jasmonate controled responses in plants. To support this research also different molecular tools and approaches were developed optimizing plant transformation and molecular breeding.
Current research is still focussing on (> 320) PDF-like peptides in Arabidopsis using genome-wide approaches such as RNAseq technology, primarily aiming at discovering their in planta role. This research is recently broadened to other types of stress-induced peptides (SIPs), leading to the discovery of several bioactive peptides including the decapeptide OSIP108 exhibiting anti-apoptotic and anti-biofilm activities. Our expertise on resistance mechanisms, mainly in A. thaliana and focusing on resistance to necroptrophic fungi, allowed us to successfully translate insights from this model plant pathosystems to agronomically important crops/diseases (e.g. Botrytis cinerea in tomato, Fusarium oxysporum in banana, Cochliobolus heterostrophus in corn). Based on our expertise of plant-pathogen interactions we extended our models to tripartite pathosystems thereby including the effect of biocontrol organisms via the so-called induced systemic response (ISR). This research is based on transcriptome studies both in a model plant (A. thaliana) and in crops (e.g. tomato, lettuce), involves both biotic and abiotic biocontrol agents and is mainly directed to different necroptrophic pathogens. It recently resulted in the development of an ISR marker-based platform allowing high-throughput screening of ISR-inducing compounds and micro-organisms.
Team members (Plant Unit only)
Kaat De Cremer (postdoc)
Katy Vandereycken (PhD)
Katrijn Raymaekers (PhD)
Caroline Struyfs (PhD)
Jasper Reyskens (technician)
Bruno Cammue is an associated PI to the VIB Plant Systems Biology Department for his research in his Plant Unit related to plant resistance to pathogens.
Please refer to Bruno Cammue's own website (menu at the right) for the full overview of his research projects including fungus and yeast research.