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1.  Auxin and the integration of environmental signals into plant root development 
Annals of Botany  2013;112(9):1655-1665.
Auxin is a versatile plant hormone with important roles in many essential physiological processes. In recent years, significant progress has been made towards understanding the roles of this hormone in plant growth and development. Recent evidence also points to a less well-known but equally important role for auxin as a mediator of environmental adaptation in plants.
This review briefly discusses recent findings on how plants utilize auxin signalling and transport to modify their root system architecture when responding to diverse biotic and abiotic rhizosphere signals, including macro- and micro-nutrient starvation, cold and water stress, soil acidity, pathogenic and beneficial microbes, nematodes and neighbouring plants. Stress-responsive transcription factors and microRNAs that modulate auxin- and environment-mediated root development are also briefly highlighted.
The auxin pathway constitutes an essential component of the plant's biotic and abiotic stress tolerance mechanisms. Further understanding of the specific roles that auxin plays in environmental adaptation can ultimately lead to the development of crops better adapted to stressful environments.
PMCID: PMC3838554  PMID: 24136877
Abiotic stress; arabidopsis; auxin; biotic stress; hormone crosstalk; lateral root development; plant hormones
2.  DNA demethylases target promoter transposable elements to positively regulate stress responsive genes in Arabidopsis 
Genome Biology  2014;15(9):458.
DNA demethylases regulate DNA methylation levels in eukaryotes. Arabidopsis encodes four DNA demethylases, DEMETER (DME), REPRESSOR OF SILENCING 1 (ROS1), DEMETER-LIKE 2 (DML2), and DML3. While DME is involved in maternal specific gene expression during seed development, the biological function of the remaining DNA demethylases remains unclear.
We show that ROS1, DML2, and DML3 play a role in fungal disease resistance in Arabidopsis. A triple DNA demethylase mutant, rdd (ros1 dml2 dml3), shows increased susceptibility to the fungal pathogen Fusarium oxysporum. We identify 348 genes differentially expressed in rdd relative to wild type, and a significant proportion of these genes are downregulated in rdd and have functions in stress response, suggesting that DNA demethylases maintain or positively regulate the expression of stress response genes required for F. oxysporum resistance. The rdd-downregulated stress response genes are enriched for short transposable element sequences in their promoters. Many of these transposable elements and their surrounding sequences show localized DNA methylation changes in rdd, and a general reduction in CHH methylation, suggesting that RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM), responsible for CHH methylation, may participate in DNA demethylase-mediated regulation of stress response genes. Many of the rdd-downregulated stress response genes are downregulated in the RdDM mutants nrpd1 and nrpe1, and the RdDM mutants nrpe1 and ago4 show enhanced susceptibility to F. oxysporum infection.
Our results suggest that a primary function of DNA demethylases in plants is to regulate the expression of stress response genes by targeting promoter transposable element sequences.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13059-014-0458-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4189188  PMID: 25228471
3.  Genome Sequence of Fusarium graminearum Isolate CS3005 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(2):e00227-14.
Fusarium graminearum is one of the most important fungal pathogens of wheat, barley, and maize worldwide. This announcement reports the genome sequence of a highly virulent Australian isolate of this species to supplement the existing genome of the North American F. graminearum isolate Ph1.
PMCID: PMC3990742  PMID: 24744326
4.  Genomic Analysis of Xanthomonas translucens Pathogenic on Wheat and Barley Reveals Cross-Kingdom Gene Transfer Events and Diverse Protein Delivery Systems 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e84995.
In comparison to dicot-infecting bacteria, only limited numbers of genome sequences are available for monocot-infecting and in particular cereal-infecting bacteria. Herein we report the characterisation and genome sequence of Xanthomonas translucens isolate DAR61454 pathogenic on wheat and barley. Based on phylogenetic analysis of the ATP synthase beta subunit (atpD) gene, DAR61454 is most closely related to other X. translucens strains and the sugarcane- and banana- infecting Xanthomonas strains, but shares a type III secretion system (T3SS) with X. translucens pv. graminis and more distantly related xanthomonads. Assays with an adenylate cyclase reporter protein demonstrate that DAR61454's T3SS is functional in delivering proteins to wheat cells. X. translucens DAR61454 also encodes two type VI secretion systems with one most closely related to those found in some strains of the rice infecting strain X. oryzae pv. oryzae but not other xanthomonads. Comparative analysis of 18 different Xanthomonas isolates revealed 84 proteins unique to cereal (i.e. rice) infecting isolates and the wheat/barley infecting DAR61454. Genes encoding 60 of these proteins are found in gene clusters in the X. translucens DAR61454 genome, suggesting cereal-specific pathogenicity islands. However, none of the cereal pathogen specific proteins were homologous to known Xanthomonas spp. effectors. Comparative analysis outside of the bacterial kingdom revealed a nucleoside triphosphate pyrophosphohydrolase encoding gene in DAR61454 also present in other bacteria as well as a number of pathogenic Fusarium species, suggesting that this gene may have been transmitted horizontally from bacteria to the Fusarium lineage of pathogenic fungi. This example further highlights the importance of horizontal gene acquisition from bacteria in the evolution of fungi.
PMCID: PMC3887016  PMID: 24416331
5.  The RNA-binding protein FPA regulates flg22-triggered defense responses and transcription factor activity by alternative polyadenylation 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:2866.
RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) play an important role in plant host-microbe interactions. In this study, we show that the plant RBP known as FPA, which regulates 3′-end mRNA polyadenylation, negatively regulates basal resistance to bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae in Arabidopsis. A custom microarray analysis reveals that flg22, a peptide derived from bacterial flagellins, induces expression of alternatively polyadenylated isoforms of mRNA encoding the defence-related transcriptional repressor ETHYLENE RESPONSE FACTOR 4 (ERF4), which is regulated by FPA. Flg22 induces expression of a novel isoform of ERF4 that lacks the ERF-associated amphiphilic repression (EAR) motif, while FPA inhibits this induction. The EAR-lacking isoform of ERF4 acts as a transcriptional activator in vivo and suppresses the flg22-dependent reactive oxygen species burst. We propose that FPA controls use of proximal polyadenylation sites of ERF4, which quantitatively limit the defence response output.
PMCID: PMC3793224  PMID: 24104185
6.  Ethylene Response Factor 6 Is a Regulator of Reactive Oxygen Species Signaling in Arabidopsis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e70289.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced in plant cells in response to diverse biotic and abiotic stresses as well as during normal growth and development. Although a large number of transcription factor (TF) genes are up- or down-regulated by ROS, currently very little is known about the functions of these TFs during oxidative stress. In this work, we examined the role of ERF6 (ETHYLENE RESPONSE FACTOR6), an AP2/ERF domain-containing TF, during oxidative stress responses in Arabidopsis. Mutant analyses showed that NADPH oxidase (RbohD) and calcium signaling are required for ROS-responsive expression of ERF6. erf6 insertion mutant plants showed reduced growth and increased H2O2 and anthocyanin levels. Expression analyses of selected ROS-responsive genes during oxidative stress identified several differentially expressed genes in the erf6 mutant. In particular, a number of ROS responsive genes, such as ZAT12, HSFs, WRKYs, MAPKs, RBOHs, DHAR1, APX4, and CAT1 were more strongly induced by H2O2 in erf6 plants than in wild-type. In contrast, MDAR3, CAT3, VTC2 and EX1 showed reduced expression levels in the erf6 mutant. Taken together, our results indicate that ERF6 plays an important role as a positive antioxidant regulator during plant growth and in response to biotic and abiotic stresses.
PMCID: PMC3734174  PMID: 23940555
7.  Analysis of hairpin RNA transgene-induced gene silencing in Fusarium oxysporum 
Silence  2013;4:3.
Hairpin RNA (hpRNA) transgenes can be effective at inducing RNA silencing and have been exploited as a powerful tool for gene function analysis in many organisms. However, in fungi, expression of hairpin RNA transcripts can induce post-transcriptional gene silencing, but in some species can also lead to transcriptional gene silencing, suggesting a more complex interplay of the two pathways at least in some fungi. Because many fungal species are important pathogens, RNA silencing is a powerful technique to understand gene function, particularly when gene knockouts are difficult to obtain. We investigated whether the plant pathogenic fungus Fusarium oxysporum possesses a functional gene silencing machinery and whether hairpin RNA transcripts can be employed to effectively induce gene silencing.
Here we show that, in the phytopathogenic fungus F. oxysporum, hpRNA transgenes targeting either a β-glucuronidase (Gus) reporter transgene (hpGus) or the endogenous gene Frp1 (hpFrp) did not induce significant silencing of the target genes. Expression analysis suggested that the hpRNA transgenes are prone to transcriptional inactivation, resulting in low levels of hpRNA and siRNA production. However, the hpGus RNA can be efficiently transcribed by promoters acquired either by recombination with a pre-existing, actively transcribed Gus transgene or by fortuitous integration near an endogenous gene promoter allowing siRNA production. These siRNAs effectively induced silencing of a target Gus transgene, which in turn appeared to also induce secondary siRNA production. Furthermore, our results suggested that hpRNA transcripts without poly(A) tails are efficiently processed into siRNAs to induce gene silencing. A convergent promoter transgene, designed to express poly(A)-minus sense and antisense Gus RNAs, without an inverted-repeat DNA structure, induced consistent Gus silencing in F. oxysporum.
These results indicate that F. oxysporum possesses functional RNA silencing machineries for siRNA production and target mRNA cleavage, but hpRNA transgenes may induce transcriptional self-silencing due to its inverted-repeat structure. Our results suggest that F. oxysporum possesses a similar gene silencing pathway to other fungi like fission yeast, and indicate a need for developing more effective RNA silencing technology for gene function studies in this fungal pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3733888  PMID: 23819794
RNA silencing; Hairpin RNA; Fungi; Polyadenylation; Convergent promoters
8.  Lateral organ boundaries domain transcription factors 
Plant Signaling & Behavior  2012;7(12):1702-1704.
Over the last two decades, several transcription factor gene families have been identified with some of them characterized in detail for their roles on transcriptional regulation of plant defense responses against pest or pathogen attack. We have recently added another transcription factor gene family to this list through the characterization of the LATERAL ORGAN BOUNDARIES (LOB) DOMAIN (LBD)-CONTAINING PROTEIN20 (LBD20). We showed LBD20 acts as a repressor of a subset of jasmonate mediated defenses and in susceptibility to the root-infecting fungal pathogen Fusarium oxysporum. However, possible roles for other members of this gene family in plant defense are currently unknown. Here we searched publically available microarray expression data and provide an overview of the expression patterns of selected members of the LBD gene family for their response to other fungal pathogens and soil nematodes. Distinct expression patterns of the LBD genes suggest that certain members of this gene family have previously undescribed roles in plant defense.
PMCID: PMC3578913  PMID: 23073022
LBD; jasmonate; transcription; defense; biotic stress; Fusarium oxysporum
9.  Exploiting pathogens' tricks of the trade for engineering of plant disease resistance: challenges and opportunities 
Microbial biotechnology  2013;6(3):212-222.
With expansion of our understanding of pathogen effector strategies and the multiplicity of their host targets, it is becoming evident that novel approaches to engineering broad-spectrum resistance need to be deployed. The increasing availability of high temporal gene expression data of a range of plant–microbe interactions enables the judicious choices of promoters to fine-tune timing and magnitude of expression under specified stress conditions. We can therefore contemplate engineering a range of transgenic lines designed to interfere with pathogen virulence strategies that target plant hormone signalling or deploy specific disease resistance genes. An advantage of such an approach is that hormonal signalling is generic so if this strategy is effective, it can be easily implemented in a range of crop species. Additionally, multiple re-wired lines can be crossed to develop more effective responses to pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3815916  PMID: 23279915
10.  Comparative Pathogenomics Reveals Horizontally Acquired Novel Virulence Genes in Fungi Infecting Cereal Hosts 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(9):e1002952.
Comparative analyses of pathogen genomes provide new insights into how pathogens have evolved common and divergent virulence strategies to invade related plant species. Fusarium crown and root rots are important diseases of wheat and barley world-wide. In Australia, these diseases are primarily caused by the fungal pathogen Fusarium pseudograminearum. Comparative genomic analyses showed that the F. pseudograminearum genome encodes proteins that are present in other fungal pathogens of cereals but absent in non-cereal pathogens. In some cases, these cereal pathogen specific genes were also found in bacteria associated with plants. Phylogenetic analysis of selected F. pseudograminearum genes supported the hypothesis of horizontal gene transfer into diverse cereal pathogens. Two horizontally acquired genes with no previously known role in fungal pathogenesis were studied functionally via gene knockout methods and shown to significantly affect virulence of F. pseudograminearum on the cereal hosts wheat and barley. Our results indicate using comparative genomics to identify genes specific to pathogens of related hosts reveals novel virulence genes and illustrates the importance of horizontal gene transfer in the evolution of plant infecting fungal pathogens.
Author Summary
Cereals are our most important staple crops and are subject to attack from a diverse range of fungal pathogens. A major goal of molecular plant pathology research is to understand how pathogens infect plants to allow the development of durable plant protection measures. Comparing the genomes of different pathogens of cereals and contrasting them to non-cereal pathogen genomes allows for the identification of genes important for pathogenicity toward these important crops. In this study, we sequenced the genome of the wheat and barley pathogen F. pseudograminearum responsible for crown and root-rot diseases, and compared it to those from a broad range of previously sequenced fungal genomes from cereal and non-cereal pathogens. These analyses revealed that the F. pseudograminearum genome contains a number of genes only found in fungi pathogenic on cereals. Some of these genes appear to have been horizontally acquired from other fungi and, in some cases, from plant associated bacteria. The functions of two of these genes were tested by creating strains that lacked the genes. Both genes had important roles in causing disease on cereals. This work has important implications for our understanding of pathogen specialization during the evolution of fungal pathogens infecting cereal crops.
PMCID: PMC3460631  PMID: 23028337
11.  Comparative genomics reveals mobile pathogenicity chromosomes in Fusarium 
Nature  2010;464(7287):367-373.
Fusarium species are among the most important phytopathogenic and toxigenic fungi. To understand the molecular underpinnings of pathogenicity in the genus Fusarium, we compared the genomes of three phenotypically diverse species: Fusarium graminearum, Fusarium verticillioides and Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. lycopersici. Our analysis revealed lineage-specific (LS) genomic regions in F. oxysporum that include four entire chromosomes and account for more than one-quarter of the genome. LS regions are rich in transposons and genes with distinct evolutionary profiles but related to pathogenicity, indicative of horizontal acquisition. Experimentally, we demonstrate the transfer of two LS chromosomes between strains of F. oxysporum, converting a non-pathogenic strain into a pathogen. Transfer of LS chromosomes between otherwise genetically isolated strains explains the polyphyletic origin of host specificity and the emergence of new pathogenic lineages in F. oxysporum. These findings put the evolution of fungal pathogenicity into a new perspective.
PMCID: PMC3048781  PMID: 20237561
12.  Early activation of wheat polyamine biosynthesis during Fusarium head blight implicates putrescine as an inducer of trichothecene mycotoxin production 
BMC Plant Biology  2010;10:289.
The fungal pathogen Fusarium graminearum causes Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) disease on wheat which can lead to trichothecene mycotoxin (e.g. deoxynivalenol, DON) contamination of grain, harmful to mammalian health. DON is produced at low levels under standard culture conditions when compared to plant infection but specific polyamines (e.g. putrescine and agmatine) and amino acids (e.g. arginine and ornithine) are potent inducers of DON by F. graminearum in axenic culture. Currently, host factors that promote mycotoxin synthesis during FHB are unknown, but plant derived polyamines could contribute to DON induction in infected heads. However, the temporal and spatial accumulation of polyamines and amino acids in relation to that of DON has not been studied.
Following inoculation of susceptible wheat heads by F. graminearum, DON accumulation was detected at two days after inoculation. The accumulation of putrescine was detected as early as one day following inoculation while arginine and cadaverine were also produced at three and four days post-inoculation. Transcripts of ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) and arginine decarboxylase (ADC), two key biosynthetic enzymes for putrescine biosynthesis, were also strongly induced in heads at two days after inoculation. These results indicated that elicitation of the polyamine biosynthetic pathway is an early response to FHB. Transcripts for genes encoding enzymes acting upstream in the polyamine biosynthetic pathway as well as those of ODC and ADC, and putrescine levels were also induced in the rachis, a flower organ supporting DON production and an important route for pathogen colonisation during FHB. A survey of 24 wheat genotypes with varying responses to FHB showed putrescine induction is a general response to inoculation and no correlation was observed between the accumulation of putrescine and infection or DON accumulation.
The activation of the polyamine biosynthetic pathway and putrescine in infected heads prior to detectable DON accumulation is consistent with a model where the pathogen exploits the generic host stress response of polyamine synthesis as a cue for production of trichothecene mycotoxins during FHB disease. However, it is likely that this mechanism is complicated by other factors contributing to resistance and susceptibility in diverse wheat genetic backgrounds.
PMCID: PMC3022911  PMID: 21192794
13.  Plant mediator 
Plant Signaling & Behavior  2010;5(6):718-720.
Jasmonate (JA) signaling plays an important role in regulating both plant defense and development. We have recently reported that the PHYTOCHROME AND FLOWERING TIME1 (PFT1) gene, which encodes the MEDIATOR25 subunit of the plant Mediator complex, is a key regulator of JA regulated transcription. We showed that the pft1 mutant had attenuated expression of a wide range of JA responsive genes and altered resistance to fungal pathogens. Here we examine the position of PFT1/MED25 within the JA pathway and discuss its role in “mediating” the JA response.
PMCID: PMC3001569  PMID: 20383062
jasmonate; JAZ; mediator; transcription; defense; PFT1; Fusarium oxysporum
14.  A high-throughput method for the detection of homoeologous gene deletions in hexaploid wheat 
BMC Plant Biology  2010;10:264.
Mutational inactivation of plant genes is an essential tool in gene function studies. Plants with inactivated or deleted genes may also be exploited for crop improvement if such mutations/deletions produce a desirable agronomical and/or quality phenotype. However, the use of mutational gene inactivation/deletion has been impeded in polyploid plant species by genetic redundancy, as polyploids contain multiple copies of the same genes (homoeologous genes) encoded by each of the ancestral genomes. Similar to many other crop plants, bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) is polyploid; specifically allohexaploid possessing three progenitor genomes designated as 'A', 'B', and 'D'. Recently modified TILLING protocols have been developed specifically for mutation detection in wheat. Whilst extremely powerful in detecting single nucleotide changes and small deletions, these methods are not suitable for detecting whole gene deletions. Therefore, high-throughput methods for screening of candidate homoeologous gene deletions are needed for application to wheat populations generated by the use of certain mutagenic agents (e.g. heavy ion irradiation) that frequently generate whole-gene deletions.
To facilitate the screening for specific homoeologous gene deletions in hexaploid wheat, we have developed a TaqMan qPCR-based method that allows high-throughput detection of deletions in homoeologous copies of any gene of interest, provided that sufficient polymorphism (as little as a single nucleotide difference) amongst homoeologues exists for specific probe design. We used this method to identify deletions of individual TaPFT1 homoeologues, a wheat orthologue of the disease susceptibility and flowering regulatory gene PFT1 in Arabidopsis. This method was applied to wheat nullisomic-tetrasomic lines as well as other chromosomal deletion lines to locate the TaPFT1 gene to the long arm of chromosome 5. By screening of individual DNA samples from 4500 M2 mutant wheat lines generated by heavy ion irradiation, we detected multiple mutants with deletions of each TaPFT1 homoeologue, and confirmed these deletions using a CAPS method. We have subsequently designed, optimized, and applied this method for the screening of homoeologous deletions of three additional wheat genes putatively involved in plant disease resistance.
We have developed a method for automated, high-throughput screening to identify deletions of individual homoeologues of a wheat gene. This method is also potentially applicable to other polyploidy plants.
PMCID: PMC3017838  PMID: 21114819

Results 1-14 (14)