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

Human MP, Berger DK, Crampton BG. (2020) Time-course RNAseq reveals Exserohilum turcicum effectors and pathogenicity determinants. Frontiers in Microbiology 11(360) 10.3389/fmicb.2020.00360
Welgemoed T, Pierneef R, Sterck L, Van de Peer Y, Swart V, Scheepers KD, Berger DK. (2020) De novo assembly of transcriptomes from a B73 maize line introgressed with a QTL for resistance to gray leaf spot disease reveals a candidate allele of a lectin receptor-like kinase. Frontiers in Plant Science http://bit.ly/2SmKPmT
Devnarain N, Crampton BG, Olivier N, van der Westhuizen C, Becker JVW, O'Kennedy MM. (2019) Transcriptomic analysis of a Sorghum bicolour landrace identifies a role for beta-alanine betaine biosynthesis in drought tolerance.. South African Journal of Botany 127 10.1016/j.sajb.2019.08.049
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 125:36-44. 10.1016/j.fgb.2019.01.005