Plant-Pathogen Interactions - immune response of plant roots?

University of Basel project team leader: Prof. Thomas Boller

Project team members: Ines Wyrsch (PhD student)

Project Lead House: Niko Geldner (Université de Lausanne)

Roots are the "the hidden half" of plants, buried in a soil environment in which they are incessantly exposed to a large variety of microbes. Some of these microbes are pathogens, causing devastating diseases in crop production, but others are symbionts, promoting plant growth and serving the needs of sustainable agroecosystems. Thus, plant roots should be able to mount an immune response towards pathogens, but at the same time they should not be offended by harmless rhizosphere microbes or symbionts. How is this possible? We hypothesize that the precise cell-specific response to microbe-associated molecular patterns (MAMPs) has a major role to play, but there is currently a void in our knowledge about the root immune response in a developmental context.

This project is a concerted effort of four groups from three Swiss Universities. We will undertake pioneering work in order to elucidate the distinct features of immune responses in roots. The teams will combine expertise of groups in plant-pathogen interactions (Boller and Metraux groups) with that of groups that are experts in root development and cell biology (Hardtke and Geldner groups).

f) elucidate the nature of mobile, systemic immune signalling in roots
d) investigate effects of cellular barrier mutants of roots on pathogen susceptibility and immune responses
c) induce immune responses in a cell type-specific fashion
b) generate immune response markers with cell type-specific resolution and use them to analyse responses to diverse pathogens
a) provide a description of root protective barriers in all relevant stages
Our major objectives are to:

These ambitious experimental goals require the concerted effort of labs with diverse technical expertises. By combining our respective competences, we will take into account the specific structures of a root and therefore will not do simplifying assumptions about organ structure that often accompany classical molecular analyses. These can blur, or completely confound, crucial differences between different cell-types and developmental stages. Losses to soil-borne root-invading organisms remain a major problem in crop production worldwide and deserve particular attention. Results from this basic research project will provide much needed knowledge for practical developments in crop protection and sustainable agriculture.