Maria Pattichis

Elucidating mechanisms regulating pathogen virulence and plant defence in the Botrytis cinerea-Arabidopsis thaliana interaction

About me

I obtained my undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge, where in my final year I specialised in Plant Sciences. During my degree I became fascinated in the interaction between plants and their pathogens, especially in the context of developing crops with increased resistance to prolific pathogens to promote more sustainable agricultural practices. In this vein, I undertook a summer research project at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, studying a fungal pathogen of wheat, one of the most important crops worldwide. In my final year, I did a research project studying the control of gene expression in C4 photosynthesis, a type of photosynthesis that has the potential to revolutionise crop yields. My PhD project excites me because it gives me the opportunity to study both sides of an important plant-pathogen interaction, from how the pathogen controls its virulence to how the plant fights back. I am also excited about how we can use this knowledge to develop new, more sustainable agricultural practices to increase crop yields worldwide, whilst reducing the reliance on harmful chemical controls, which has heightened importance in the face of climate change and an ever-growing world population. 

My project

The interaction between plants and the pathogens that infect them is highly complex, containing multiple layers of attack and counterattack, the outcome of which determines the degree of pathogen spread. Botrytis cinerea is known as the second most important plant fungal pathogen, and infects well over 200 plants, including many crops, leading to upwards of $10 billion in crop losses, annually. My project aims to study the interaction between B. cinerea and the model plant species, Arabidopsis thaliana, to elucidate the mechanisms controlling the virulence of the pathogen and further understand the plant defence response against this pathogen. I will use RNA interference to study the role of transcription factors in controlling the expression of B. cinerea virulence factors. In A. thaliana, I will study the role of a family of transcriptional co-repressor proteins, TOPLESS (TPL) and TPL-related proteins, to understand their role in the plant defence response through studying their interactions with other proteins in the nucleus of the plant cell. The study of both pathogen and plant will help identify novel methods of controlling this important plant pathogen.