The work in my lab revolves around the molecular mechanisms of disease resistance in potato. Plant diseases are among the greatest deterrents to crop production worldwide. Diseases caused by fungi, viruses, bacteria, insects, and nematodes impact agronomic and horticultural crops, in addition to commercial and recreational forests. Major efforts have been devoted to understanding the mechanisms of genetic resistance and incorporating it into breeding programs to offset potential yield loss caused by pathogens. We hope that by understanding the molecular and genetic basis of resistance in plants, we can improve the process of developing new crop varieties that require less pesticide application.
There are many resistance (R) genes in plant hosts, each conferring a unique specificity to various pathogen isolates. These R genes often are clustered as complex gene-families in plant genomes. In general, R genes function to recognize, directly or indirectly, "effector" molecules produced by the invading pathogen. This recognition results in a rapid signal cascade, leading to an active defense response.
A major focus of our work is exploring resistance to the oomycete pathogen Phytophthora infestans, which causes late blight on potato and tomato plants. In collaboration with other researchers, we are also working with potato hybrids with resistance to Verticillium wilt and others with resistance to Alternaria solani, causal agent of early blight of potato, and resistance to potato virus Y. You can read more about our research projects here.