Understanding the evolution of plant disease resistance genes for crop improvement

Evolution of plant disease resistance genes


Research on the interactions between plants and pathogens has become one of the most rapidly moving fields in the plant sciences, findings of which have contributed to the development of new strategies and technologies for crop protection.

A good example of plant and pathogen evolution is the gene-for-gene interaction between the fungal pathogen Leptosphaeria maculans, causal agent of Blackleg disease, and Brassica crops (canola, mustard, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts). The newly available genome sequences for Brassica spp. and L. maculans provide the resources to study the co-evolution of this plant and pathogen. Plant disease resistance genes play a critical role in providing resistance against pathogens. The largest families of resistance genes are the nucleotide binding site and leucine rich repeat genes (NBS-LRRs) and receptor like proteins (RLPs). Hundreds of these genes are present within the genome, however the evolutionary history of these genes is not fully understood.

Genome wide identification of these genes within and between species allows a study of which genes are core to a species or family and which have variable roles. Using state of the art genomics, this project aims to identify all these genes within Brassica species and wild relative species, perform comparative analysis within and between the species and provide an understanding of the evolution of these genes.

Additional projects are available to review and assess the correlation between known genomic regions containing resistance to a specific disease and NBS-LRR resistance genes in Brassica napus. Resistance to clubroot, downy mildew and blackleg disease in B. napus will be identified and classified. Results will provide evidence on NBS-LRR distribution and clustering throughout the genome and determine if the clusters tend to be more linked and associated with disease resistance. Further investigation of the similarity/divergence in sequence and gene content will help elucidate their conservation and evolution.

For more background information, see the suggested readings below.

Suggested readings

As part of this PhD the applicant will:

  • Undertake next generation sequencing and high throughput genotyping
  • Phenotypic analysis to identify resistance genes in plants
  • Evolutionary and population genetic analysis

Research team leader: Professor Jacqueline Batley

I have expertise in plant molecular biology, genetics and genomics, gained from working in both industry and academia, here and in the UK. I am in the School of Biological Sciences at UWA and apply breakthrough biotechnological advances for crop improvement, through identification of genomic regions controlling traits, which are being translated to commercial outcomes for increasing global food security.

How to apply

Interested in becoming part of this project? Complete the following steps to submit your expression of interest:

Step 1 - Check criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

Requirements specific to this project:

  • Applicants are required to have an understanding of genetics as well as experience of molecular biology.

Step 2 - Submit enquiry to research team leader

Step 3 - Lodge application

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, you should be in a position to proceed to the next step of the UWA application process: Lodge an application. Different application procedures apply to domestic and international students.


Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

Professor Jacqui Batley awarded Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science

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