Does plant defense signaling discriminate between types of pests?
Plant defenses against different pests can exhibit trade-offs, since certain responses may benefit the plant in one interaction (e.g. cell death against a biotrophic bacterial pathogen) but compromise its resistance in another interaction (e.g. allow colonization by a necrotrophic fungus). Antagonism between different plant defense hormones is well-established, but early signaling divergence in biotrophic vs. necrotrophic defense responses is less studied. We are comparing responses to different defense elicitors at several scales to understand early signaling antagonisms and how these might be manipulated by different attackers, including caterpillars and bacteria.
Can pest recognition factors be predicted and transferred across crop species?
Plant genomes encode hundreds of membrane receptors, which facilitate developmental and defensive responses to diverse ligands. Many of these receptors recognize ubiquitous pest factors, but are recently evolved and thus restricted to certain plant taxa. With vast and increasing genomic resources, we are interested to identify rapidly evolving and expanding sets of receptors in specific plant lineages. Since these receptors generally function using common signaling machinery across plants, identifying and transferring immune receptors across crop species should allow expanded recognition of plant pests.