Prof. Dr. Alga Zuccaro

Research focus

Currently my research is focused on the mechanisms that enable symbiotic fungi to colonize plants successfully and on the processes accounting for variations in host preferences and fungal lifestyles, especially in mutualistic root endophytes. With respect to insights into how symbiotic fungi establish themselves in metabolically active root cells and how the plants are reprogrammed for enhanced performance, in my group we routinely use integrated approaches that rely on the combination of reverse genetics, transcriptomics, cell biology, biochemistry, and comparative genomics. We propose to analyze the genetics and cell biology of the root endophyte Piriformospora indica, and the closely related orchid mycorrhizal fungus Sebacina vermiferain their symbioses with the model plants barley (monocot) and Arabidopsis (dicot) and to understand the evolutionary mechanisms involved in the establishment of biotrophy. Primary interest is to find answers to the following questions:

  • Which mechanisms allow root endophytes to suppress host defense in a wide range of unrelated plants? Does P. indica and S. vermifera use effector-like molecules in the form of small secreted proteins in order to manipulate different host plants and/or are there other mechanisms like shielding itself in place?
  • Which signals mediate the switch from the biotrophic to the cell death associated phase? And is this latter phase actively triggered by the fungus?
  • What are the basic events involved in the transition from saprotrophic to symbiotic lifestyles?

The ten most important publications

    1. Wawra S, Fesel P, Widmer H, Leson L, Langen G, Zuccaro A (2016) The fungal-specific ß-glucan binding lectin FGB1 alters cell wall composition and prevents glucan-triggered immunity in plants. Nat Commun. doi: 10.1038/ncomms13188.
    2. Fesel PH, Zuccaro A (2016) Dissecting endophytic lifestyle along the parasitism/mutualism continuum in Arabidopsis. Current Opinion in Microbiology 32: 103-112
    3. Kohler A, Kuo A, Nagy LG, Morin E, Barry KW, Buscot F, Canback B, Choi C, Cichocki N, Clum A, et al. (2015) Convergent losses of decay mechanisms and rapid turnover of symbiosis genes in mycorrhizal mutualists. Nature Genetics 47(4): 410-U176
    4. Lahrmann U, Strehmel N, Langen G, Frerigmann H, Leson L, Ding Y, Scheel D, Herklotz S, Hilbert M, Zuccaro A (2015) Mutualistic root endophytism is not associated with the reduction of saprotrophic traits and requires a noncompromised plant innate immunity. New Phytol 207(3):841-857.
    5. Zuccaro A, Lahrmann U, Langen G (2014) Broad compatibility in fungal root symbioses. Curr Opin Plant Biol 20:135-145.
    6. Lahrmann U, Ding Y, Banhara A, Rath M, Hajirezaei MR, Döhlemann S, von Wirén N, Parniske M, Zuccaro A (2013) Host-related metabolic cues affect colonization strategies of a root endophyte. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 110(34):13965-13970.
    7. Zuccaro A, Lahrmann U, Güldener U, Langen G, Pfiffi S, Biedenkopf D, Wong P, Samans B, Grimm C, Basiewicz M, Murat C, Martin F, Kogel KH (2011) Endophytic life strategies decoded by genome and transcriptome analyses of the mutualistic root symbiont Piriformospora indica. PLoS pathogens 7(10):e1002290
    8. Schoch CL, Sung G-H, Lopez-Giraldez F, Townsend JP, Miadlikowska J, Hofstetter V, Robbertse B, Matheny PB, Kauff F, Wang Z, et al. (2009) The Ascomycota Tree of Life: A Phylum-wide Phylogeny Clarifies the Origin and Evolution of Fundamental Reproductive and Ecological Traits. Syst Biol 58(2): 224-239
    9. Zuccaro A, Schoch CL, Spatafora JW, Kohlmeyer J, Draeger S, Mitchel JI (2008) Detection and identification of fungi intimately associated with the brown seaweed Fucus serratus. Appl Environ Microbiol 74(4): 931-941
    10. Zuccaro A, Summerbell R, Gams W, Schroers H, Mitchell J (2004) A new Acremonium species associated with Fucus spp., and its affinity with a phylogenetically distinct marine Emericellopsis clade. Studies in Mycology (50): 283-297
    Prof. Dr. Alga Zuccaro
    CEPLAS Alga Zuccaro


     +49 221 470-7170

    Institute for Genetics, Cologne Biocenter
    University of Cologne

    Zülpicher Straße 47a

    50674 Cologne

    Heinrich Heine University
    University of Cologne
    Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research
    Forschungszentrum Jülich