The FABI International Seminar Series

In light of the extraordinary circumstances experienced around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most, if not all, scientific meetings have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. One of the many benefits of these meetings is science engagement.


The FABI International Seminar Series provides an opportunity for our research community to continue discussions on various topics. Our guest speakers will cover a wide range of topics related to plant health. Our monthly virtual seminars are open to all registered participants ensuring a wide audience.


Please fill in the registration form on the left menu of this page should you be interested in attending these events. You will be contact via email provided with relevant information on the seminar for each month. If you wish to contribute to this initiative by offering to present your research, please contact Prof Cobus Visagie


Upcoming seminar: 26 November 2020  -  Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)

Co-host with the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology

Speaker: Prof Eva H. Stukenbrock, Max Planck Fellow and professor at Kiel University, Germany

Title: Interspecific hybridization in fungal grass pathogens shape genome-wide variation

Registration information

Please fill in the registration form below should you wish to attend the seminars in The FABI International Seminar Series for 2020. You will be provided with information regarding the seminar for each month.


Registration Form

Biographical information


November, 2020

Speaker: Prof Eva H. Stukenbrock, Max Planck Fellow and professor at Kiel University, Germany

Title: Interspecific hybridization in fungal grass pathogens shape genome-wide variation 

Date: 26 November 2020                      Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Genome analyses have revealed a profound role of hybridization and introgression in the evolution of many eukaryote lineages, including fungi. The impact of recurrent introgression on fungal evolution however remains elusive. Here, we analyzed signatures of introgression along the genome of the fungal wheat pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici. We applied a comparative population genomics approach, including genome data from five Zymoseptoria species, to characterize the distribution and composition of introgressed regions representing segments with an exceptional haplotype pattern. These regions are found throughout the genome, comprising five percent of the total genome and overlapping with > 1000 predicted genes. We performed window-based phylogenetic analyses along the genome to distinguish regions which have a monophyletic or non-monophyletic origin with Z. tritici sequences. A majority of non-monophyletic windows overlap with the highly variable regions suggesting that these originate from introgression. We verified that incongruent gene genealogies do not result from incomplete lineage sorting (ILS) by comparing the observed and expected length distribution of haplotype blocks resulting from ILS. Although protein-coding genes are not enriched in these regions, we identify 18 that encode putative virulence determinants. Moreover, we find an enrichment of transposable elements (TEs) in these regions implying that hybridization may contribute to the horizontal spread of TEs. We detected a similar pattern in the closely related species Zymoseptoria ardabiliae, suggesting that hybridization is widespread among these closely related grass pathogens. Overall, our results demonstrate a significant impact of recurrent hybridization on overall genome evolution of this important wheat pathogen.


Biography: The research of Eva Stukenbrock focuses on the ecological interactions and co-evolution of fungi associated with plants. Since her PhD at the ETH in Zurich, she has used the plant pathogenic fungus Zymoseptoria tritici as a model to study pathogen evolution. During her post doc at Aarhus University, Denmark she worked with Prof. Mikkel Schierup to apply whole genome coalescence analyses to infer the speciation history of Z. tritici and related Zymoseptoria species. In 2010, she was appointed group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, Germany, and since 2014 she is Max Planck Fellow and professor at Kiel University. Her group integrates computational biology with experimental and molecular approaches to study mechanisms of host specialization of plant pathogens.


October, 2020

Speaker: Dr Robert Waterhouse, Assistant Professor and SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics Group Leader at the Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Title: Evolutionary genomics of arthropods impacting plant health 

Date: 29 October 2020                      Time: 14:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: As the most successful terrestrial animals, arthropods demonstrate countless evolutionary adaptations exploiting many ecological niches, making them ideal for investigating how the evolution of functional genomic elements gives rise to the splendour of animal biology. This diversity makes insects and other arthropods fascinating to study, as models for processes like ageing and sociality, and also because of their roles in human, livestock, and crop health as disease vectors, in agriculture as pests, pollinators, or biological control agents, and more generally in ecology and environmental conservation. I aim to present real-world examples from my own research projects of what we can learn from genomics about how interactions with plants have shaped the evolution of arthropods such as bumblebees, beetles, sawflies, stink bugs, thrips, milkweed bugs, moths, and mites.


Biography: Born in eSwatini and growing up on a cattle farm in the lowveld miles from the nearest paved road, it is perhaps hardly surprising that I developed an interest in the natural world around me. Although there were always plenty of larger creatures to distract me, the incredible variety and sheer numbers of different insects could not be ignored – especially when they insisted on coming inside and making themselves at home. Now living in Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva, I study insect genomes, their encoded genes, and how they have evolved – especially those of my childhood tormentors, the disease-carrying mosquitoes!


Speaker for September/October, 2020

Speaker: Prof Katherine Denby, University of York, UK

Title: A systems approach to disease resistance against necrotrophic fungal pathogens 

Date: 1 October 2020                      Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)



Abstract: Plant responses to biotic stress involve large-scale transcriptional reprogramming. We are using transcriptional information to speed up the identification, and exploitation, of genes conferring quantitative resistance against necrotrophic fungal pathogens in lettuce. We elucidated gene regulatory networks underlying these transcriptional responses to pathogen infection using a combination of experimental and computational/mathematical tools. We generated high-resolution time series expression data from lettuce leaves following infection with two fungal pathogens, Botrytis cinerea and Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. We applied a time series-based network analysis gene discovery strategy to predict lettuce genes conferring disease resistance against these fungal pathogens and combined this with quantitative genetics, and analysis of natural variation in defence transcriptomes,  to speed up the discovery of genes underlying disease resistance traits. Our dual RNAseq data enabled us to capture temporal transcriptome changes in both host and pathogen to probe the molecular basis of plant-pathogen interaction and also predict key regulators of virulence in the pathogens..


Biography: Katherine Denby is Professor in the Biology Department at the University of York and a member of the department’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products. Katherine is also Academic Director of the N8 AgriFood Resilience Programme, a multidisciplinary programme (across 8 research-intensive UK universities) tackling sustainable food production, resilient supply chains, diet and consumer behaviour to address the global food security challenge. She is an Editor for The Plant Journal and the new journal Plants, People, Planet. 


Katherine has a degree in Microbiology from the University of Bristol and a PhD in Plant Science from the University of Oxford. She did post-doctoral research with Prof. Rob Last at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Science at Cornell University, USA before moving to South Africa. Katherine headed up a research group at the University of Cape Town investigating the regulation of plant defence before moving back to the UK in 2006 to Warwick HRI, later School of Life Sciences, and the Systems Biology Centre at Warwick University where she began to use interdisciplinary approaches and apply these to breeding crops with enhanced disease resistance. In 2016 Katherine moved to the University of York and the N8 AgriFood programme.


Speaker for August, 2020

Speaker: Dr Marie-Agnès Jacques, National Institute for Agricultural Research, France

Title: Addressing the threat posed by Xylella fastidiosa to the agriculture and the environment 

Date: 27 August 2020                      Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Xylella fastidiosa is an insect-borne plant pathogenic bacterium confined to the xylem vessels of its host plants. While its host range has been estimated to 560 plant species, significant economic losses have been reported for only a handful of them (grapevine, citrus, olive tree and almonds as examples) and most of the time it is linked to introductions of the pathogen in novel areas. Improving the detection, identification and typing of this pathogen is a key step to avoid introductions or manage its populations once introduced. In this seminar, I will present the various proposals we made to improve X. fastidiosa detection and identification, understand its metabolic capacities and reconstruct its evolutionary history and introduction routes to France.


Biography: Dr Marie-Agnès Jacques is team leader at RIHS from the National Institute for Agricultural Research in France. She is senior scientist working as plant bacteriologist. She had coordinated several research projects on seed health and epidemiology of plant pathogenic bacteria. Since 2013, she has been involved in projects aiming at characterizing Xylella fastidiosa strains isolated from contaminated tobacco intercepted in France and characterizing Xylella fastidiosa strains from the recent outbreaks in France.


Speaker for July, 2020

Speaker: Dr Celine Caseys, University of California, Davis, USA 

Title: Plant versus Botrytis: a story of quantitative plant-pathogen interactions 

Date: 30 July 2020                    Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)



Abstract: Botrytis cinerea (grey mold) is a fungal pathogen that causes necrotic disease on more than a thousand known hosts widely spread across the plant kingdom. How this pathogen causes disease symptoms on so many hosts remains unclear but is best explained by quantitative virulence. I will show how the quantitative virulence of 98 strains of Botrytis varies across eight host crops representing 90 genotypes. 


Biography: Dr Celine Caseys is a project scientist at the University of California, Davis. She grew up 20 min away from an international city, Geneva (Switzerland), but on a farm, making plants an essential part of her universe for as long as she can remember. She completed both her Bachelor's and Master's degrees at the University of Geneva with an early focus on phytochemistry and plant interactions. She earned her Ph.D. in the lab of Christian Lexer at the University of Fribourg, studying phytochemical defenses in hybridizing poplar trees. She was then awarded a postdoctoral fellowship to study in the consequences of hybridization in Sunflower with Loren Rieseberg at the University of British Columbia, in Canada. In 2016, she discovered the world of Botrytis interactions in the lab of Dan Kliebenstein. The fascination has not stopped since. When she is not growing plants & molds or feeding the molds with plants, Celine likes to cook and bake and is an avid biker.

Speaker for June, 2020

Speaker: Dr Matthew Kasson, Assistant Professor of Forest Pathology, West Virginia University, USA 

Title: Deciphering fungus-arthropod interactions: from ambrosia fungi to cicada-killing “Zygomycetes" 

Date: 25 June 2020                    Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Understanding the functional roles of fungi in many arthropod-fungus interactions has proven difficult especially for understudied systems. Well characterized systems can provide a starting point for such investigations, but new tools and perspectives are often needed to crack the code on these elusive consortia. 


Biography: Dr Kasson is an Associate Professor of Forest Pathology and Mycology in the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences at West Virginia University. He also serves as director of INVAM, the world's largest collection of vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, which is housed at WVU. His research focuses on fungal biocontrol, canker diseases of trees and shrubs, and arthropod-fungus interactions. His work on arthropod-fungus interactions includes fungus-farming ambrosia beetles, fungivorous millipedes, and entomopathogens of various insects including cicadas. Dr Kasson is also passionate about #SciComm and is active on twitter (@kasson_wvu) where he discusses mycology, plant pathology, and all things fungi.

Speaker for May, 2020

Speaker: Dr Joey Tanney, Research Scientist, Pacific Forestry Centre, Canada

Title:Endophyte insights: modulating tree microbiomes and the new paradigm of forest tree health

Date: 28 May 2020                    Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Virtually all healthy tree leaves are colonized by endophytes—fungi that asymptomatically infect leaves for all or part of their life history. Endophytes are taxonomically and functionally very diverse, comprising species with simple to complex life histories and narrow to broad host ranges. Interactions between endophytes and their hosts occur along the endosymbiont–pathogen continuum, with emerging evidence suggesting that endophytes can have a profound effect on plant health. For example, endophytes may bestow resistance or tolerance to a variety of abiotic and biotic stresses, offering potential applications in forestry. In this talk, I will describe some discoveries and progress made from an ongoing research program in Eastern Canada, which seeks to employ endophytes to improve tree health. Modulating tree microbiomes, for example by inoculating seedlings with beneficial endophyte strains, offers new approaches and tools to promote forest health. Conversely, endophytes also present a significant phytosanitary risk in the global movement of live plants, challenging conventional detection methods.


Biography: I was born and raised in eastern Canada. I completed my BSc. Forestry at Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, ON), where I caught the mycology bug from a forest pathology course. I stayed on at Lakehead to do a MSc. looking at antifeedant defence mechanisms against fungal-feeding nematodes by various saprotrophic and mycorrhizal fungi. I then spent a year working at the AAFC Ottawa Research and Development Centre under the supervision of Keith Seifert, where I worked on a global survey of fungi from house dust, which became an ongoing side project for the next several years. I completed my PhD in Keith’s lab, where I conducted a taxonomic and phylogenetic investigation of conifer endophytes of eastern Canada. I then moved to Quebec City and completed a postdoc at Université Laval in Richard Hamelin’s lab, where I worked on the genomic variability of the forest pathogen causing Swiss Needle Cast of Douglas-fir. I moved to Victoria in the fall of 2018 to start my position as a research scientist (mycology) at the PFC, with a research focus on endemic and invasive fungal pathogens and phytosanitary issues.

I am a taxonomist with a strong interest in fungal ecology and my favourite fungi are inoperculate discomycetes and dematiaceous hyphomycetes associated with forest trees. I have two sons (2- and 4-years-old) and an 8-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer.