The International Research Training Group (IRTG) 2172 funded by the DFG is a collaborative program between research groups of the Georg-August-University Goettingen and research groups of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver.
With the human population exceeding seven billion and growing, new solutions are urgently needed to ensure food security for the global community in a sustainable manner. The very active research field of plant-microbe/insect interaction can help to contribute to this challenge. A better understanding of how plants interact with their biotic environment will lead to improved and environmentally friendly crop protection strategies to fend off pathogen and insect threats and support sustainable agriculture. The consortium aims to elucidate defense mechanisms that are operational in different cellular and extracellular compartments of model and crop plants. Towards this goal the doctoral researchers will have access to almost all modern technologies of life sciences.
The IRTG specifically focusses on the following interconnected aspects of plant pathogen interactions: Barriers, metabolites and signal transduction.
To protect themselves against microbial diseases and feeding insects, plants have evolved a wide variety of constitutive and inducible defense mechanisms. The first pre-formed barriers that microorganisms and insects need to overcome are the plant cuticle and the cell wall. After pathogen attack or insect feeding, fragments of the cuticle and the cell wall can function as danger associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) that can elicit inducible defense reactions. Importantly, defense reactions are also triggered by microbe associated molecular patterns (MAMPs). Upon perception of MAMPs or DAMPs by plasma membrane-bound pattern recognition receptors (PRRs), intracellular signaling cascades are activated finally resulting in nuclear transcriptional reprogramming. The induced set of genes leads to the synthesis of cell wall modifying enzymes, anti-microbial proteins, toxins, etc. This first layer of immunity is called basal resistance and interferes efficiently with propagation of a wide variety of pathogens. However, successful pathogens suppress basal resistance by secreting distinct sets of pathogen-specific effector molecules, which impede with plant metabolism and defense. During this compatible interaction, both partners have to adapt to the prevailing environmental conditions that are influenced by further biotic interactions, nutrient availability etc. To overcome susceptibility triggered by adapted pathogens, plants have evolved intracellular leucine-rich repeat (NB-LRR)-containing proteins (NLRs). The NLRs either directly or indirectly detect pathogen-derived effectors and therefore serve as resistance proteins. Activated NLR proteins elicit a very strong local defense response that often results in the deliberate cell death of the infected plant cell. Local defense responses triggered by either MAMP-activated PRR or activated NLR proteins are often associated with systemic immunity throughout the entire plant.
The IRTG is managed by 8 research groups of the Georg August University Goettingen in close cooperation with 7 research groups of the Department of Botany and the Michael-Smith Laboratories of the UBC in Vancouver. A joint PhD training program and close cooperation within the projects provide international experience and an international network to the doctoral researchers who will also spend part of their PhD thesis in Canada.
The IRTG provides intense scientific guidance together with an excellent experimental infrastructure for successful PhD projects. Moreover, the program exposes the doctoral researchers to many cutting-edge methods that can be combined with obligatory offers that meet with their individual needs in graduate training.