Our group particularly focuses on the mechanisms employed by the powdery mildew fungus Blumeria graminis forma specialis hordei (Bgh) to colonize barley.
Powdery mildews are obligate biotrophs, meaning that they require living host cells for proliferation. It however appears that during this interaction, the plant can spatially control the infection with the fungus to the leaf surface as Bgh can exclusively infect epidermal leaf cells. For this, Bgh produces specialized infection structures (so-called haustoria) that facilitate the uptake of nutrients from the plant cells and the transport of factors beneficial for fungal proliferation into the plant cells.
The complex nature of this interaction is worth studying for a number of reasons. First, the research goals will assist the protection of economically important cereals such as barley from yield loss as a result of fungal infection. Second, understanding the mechanisms by which Bgh can protect barley leaf cells from cellular collapse and senescence will provide a platform to increase crop yield by prolonging the life cycle of crops. Third, the fungus’ impressive features for the uptake of nutrients from the plant through haustorial feeding structures can provide future insight into the metabolic exchange between plants and their (microbial) environment.