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 Science 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 is now increasingly using RNAseq.

There are two major research projects in the MPPI lab, The first 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 second project area is study of the pathosystem between Ralstonia solanacearum, the causal agent of bacterial wilt and the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. We are taking a genetic approach. This exploits the natural diversity of Arabidopsis accessions as well as the many molecular tools available for Arabidopsis research.

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

New Publications

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 10.1007/s00239-018-9837-9
Liversage J, Coetzee MPA, Bluhm BH, Berger DK, Crampton BG. (2018) LOVe across kingdoms: Blue light perception vital for growth and development in plant–fungal interactions. Fungal Biology Reviews 10.1016/j.fbr.2017.11.003
Wingfield BD, Berger DK, Steenkamp ET, Lim H-J, Duong TA, Bluhm BH, De Beer ZW, De Vos L, Fourie G, Naidoo K, Olivier NA, Lin Y, Van der Peer Y, Joubert F, Crampton BG, Swart V, Soal N, Tatham C, Van der Nest MA, Van der Merwe NA, Van Wyk S, Wilken PM, Wingfield MJ. (2017) IMA Genome-F 8 Draft genome of Cercospora zeina, Fusarium pininemorale, Hawksworthiomyces lignivorus, Huntiella decipiens and Ophiostoma ips. IMA Fungus 8 (2):385‑396. 10.5598/imafungus.2017.08.02.10
Meyer J, Berger DK, Christensen SA, Murray SL. (2017) RNA-Seq analysis of resistant and susceptible sub-tropical maize lines reveals a role for kauralexins in resistance to grey leaf spot disease, caused by Cercospora zeina. BMC Plant Biology 17:197. 10.1186/s12870-017-1137-9
Amuge T, Berger DK, Katari MS, Myburg AA, Goldman SL, Ferguson ME. (2017) A time series transcriptome analysis of cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) varieties challenged with Ugandan cassava brown streak virus. Scientific Reports 7:9747. 10.1038/s41598-017-09617-z