Universiteit Leiden

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Research project


How do plant defense genes get activated?

2022 - 2027
Pingtao Ding
ERC Starting Grant ERC Starting Grant


Plant diseases are widespread and constitute a major threat to food production. Understanding the molecular mechanisms by which plants resist pathogens is essential to design better strategies for protecting crops from diseases. Strict regulation of plant defense gene expression plays a critical role in establishing an effective and fine-tuned immune response; their insufficient expression leads to diseases, while their overexpression can result in autoimmunity and severe fitness penalties. My own recent work using systems biology approaches reveals hidden components inferred by defense gene regulatory networks as essential players in plant immunity.

The next challenge lies in establishing how the recognition of pathogens by plant immune receptors is converted to changes in defense gene expression and results in effective immunity. In particular, it is unknown how defense gene regulatory mechanisms are dynamically regulated, whether the mechanisms are shared by different plant species, and how different types of plant cells respond to pathogen attacks. My long-term goal is to develop robust tools to control plant pathogens. To tackle these challenging questions, the R-ELEVATION program addresses three core objectives:

1. Determine how master transcription factors regulate the expression of defense genes.
2. Identify and characterize new and conserved regulatory components during immune activation.
3. Elucidate and compare cell-type-specific gene regulatory networks between resistant and susceptible plants.

With my team, I aim to advance the fundamental understanding of dynamic gene regulatory mechanisms during plant immune activation that are conserved in different plant species. I additionally aim to revolutionize plant protection strategies at the cell-type-specific level. Translating our results into crop plants will enable the development of management strategies, including selectable traits for plant breeding, for more durable and fine-tunable resistance.

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