Plant pathogens pose a major threat to sustainable bioenergy production. A better understanding of how pathogens cause disease and how plants defend themselves is essential to protect biofuel crops in the future. Recently, the genomes of many bioenergy crops and their fungal pathogens have been sequenced, which provides unprecedented resources to study the genetic basis of plant-fungal interactions. However, little is currently known about transcriptional reprogramming underlying diseases of bioenergy crops, particularly those caused by fungi in the class Dothideomycetes. Some of these pathogens are necrotrophs that directly kill host tissues while others are hemibiotrophs, with short to long latent periods after invasion before inducing host cell death (necrosis). To close this knowledge gap, the project takes a three- pronged approach involving deep transcriptomics of several host-pathogen interactions augmented by genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and bulk sequencing of model interactions. The three time points will cover early, transitional, and late stages of the interactions to analyze the progress of each disease. Half of the work will involve looking at changes in fungal gene expression and the other half will involve host gene responses during both susceptible and resistant interactions. Analyses of the host-pathogen combinations will provide an excellent understanding of the mechanisms of pathogenicity and resistance for fungal pathogens in the Dothideomycetes and ultimately will lead to improved methods of disease management for sustainable production of bioenergy crops.
PI: Gert Kema, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Netherlands