Arabidopsis and natural pathogens
The small crucifer A.thaliana is a small annual plant, common along agricultural fields,
roads, and other disturbed habitats. It is native to Eurasia and naturalized almost worldwide. Due to its
rapid life cycle, large number of progeny, and small genome size, it is a widely used model for molecular,
genetic and evolutionary studies.
The efforts of many scientists since the first part of the last century have resulted in a global collection
of many thousands of inbred strains, originating from diverse habitats, and with considerable genetic and
phenotypic variation. In conjunction with whole-genome sequences of over 1,000 of these strains, A. thaliana
stands as an ideal organism for rapid mapping of adaptive traits using genome-wide association studies (GWAS).
With the advance of A. thaliana as a model for molecular genetics during the 1980s and 1990s, two
types of pathosystems were set up to identify genes involved in plant defense: readily available crop
pathogens that turned out to infect A.thaliana (such as Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato
DC3000), and natural pathogens isolated from the wild (especially Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis,
originally known as Peronospora parasitica). These pathosystems enabled the cloning of many
resistance (R) genes, and paved the way for subsequent biochemical studies that have greatly advanced our
mechanistic understanding of plant-pathogen interaction. However, with few exceptions, we know much less
about how either specialist or generalist pathogens interact with A. thaliana in the wild, and how these
interactions are shaped by abiotic and biotic components of the natural environment. This is where
Pathodopsis comes in. The goal of this project is to take these previous efforts to a new level, by
mapping genetic diversity of wild pathogens onto the genetic diversity of wild A. thaliana hosts.
The Pseudomonas genus of gram-negative Proteobacteria is among the most abundant colonizers of plants.
Several species within this genus are pathogenic, while others serve as biocontrol agents protecting plants
from disease. Much is known about the mechanisms of pathogenicity, that is, why certain strains cause disease.
The responsible genes evolve quickly between host species and even within host populations. As a genetically
tractable pathogen, Pseudomonas syringae was adopted early on as a model pathosystem for A.
thaliana, and important discoveries have been made with this system. On the plant, Pseudomonas
infections cause a range of symptoms, including yellow or black leaf spots and leaf necrosis.