The Molecular Plant-Pathogen Interactions (MPPI) Group is located in the Plant Sciences Complex at the University of Pretoria. The group is part of the Department of Plant & Soil Sciences and the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) and is headed by Prof Dave Berger. Research focuses on the molecular basis of plant-pathogen interactions and the mechanisms of plant defence using a range of approaches from whole plant phenotyping to functional genomics, as well as developing bioinformatics tools. The MPPI group has particular experience in transcriptomics using microarrays and RNAseq.

The main research projects in the MPPI lab involves maize, the staple food of sub-Saharan Africa. We are interested in understanding mechanisms underlying quantitative disease resistance in maize to grey leaf spot (GLS) disease. GLS is an important constraint to maize production in many maize growing regions of the world, particularly in Africa.

We collaborate with maize breeders and field pathologists to understand the disease in its Agricultural context, which gives postgraduate students the opportunity to temporarily "escape" from the lab. Apart from glasshouse bioassays, the MPPI group is employing genomics, such as high density molecular markers, and transcriptomics to study maize defence mechanisms against GLS, with the long term aim to develop tools for maize improvement, such as marker assisted selection.

The MPPI group, together with the CFPRG in FABI, is also elucidating pathogenicity strategies employed by Cercospora zeina, the causal agent of GLS. We are taking a comparative genomics approach, through whole genome sequencing of C. zeina isolates. The research is followed up using functional genomics tools developed in the CFPRG. In addition, we are carrying out genetic diversity studies of C.zeina.

The MPPI group is hosted in the Plant Sciences Complex with excellent laboratories for plant biotechnology research, and access to phytotron and glasshouse facilities. Several bioinformatics software packages and databases have been developed by the group in collaboration with the Centre for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at the University of Pretoria.

New Publications

Zumaquero A, Martinez-Ferri E, Matas AJ, Reeksting B, Olivier NA, Pliego-Alfaro F, Barcelo A, van den Berg N, Pliego C. (2019) Rosellinia necatrix infection induces differential gene expression between tolerant and susceptible avocado rootstocks. PLoS ONE 14(2):e0212359. 10.1371/journal.pone.0212359
Nsibo DL, Barnes I, Kunene NT, Berger DK. (2019) Influence of farming practices on the population genetics of the maize pathogen Cercospora zeina in South Africa. Fungal Genetics and Biology 10.1016/j.fgb.2019.01.005
van den Berg N, Mohamed W, Olivier NA, Swart V, Crampton B. (2018) Transcriptome analysis of an incompatible Persea americana-Phytophthora cinnamomi interaction reveals the involvement of SA- and JA-pathways in a successful defense response. PLoS ONE 13(10):e0205705. 10.1371/journal.pone.0205705
Read DA, Featherstone J, Rees DJG, Thompson GD, Roberts R, Flett BC, Mashingaidze K, Berger DK, Welgemoed T, Pietersen G, Schulze SE, Kiula B, Kullaya A, Mbega E. (2018) First report of maize yellow mosaic virus (MaYMV) on maize (Zea mays) in Tanzania. Journal of Plant Pathology 1:1. 10.1007/s42161-018-0152-5
Viljoen E, Odeny DA, Coetzee MPA, Berger DK, Rees DJG. (2018) Application of Chloroplast Phylogenomics to Resolve Species Relationships Within the Plant Genus Amaranthus. Journal of Molecular Evolution 86(3-4):216-239. 10.1007/s00239-018-9837-9