Plantjacking: how do vascular pathogens avoid starvation in the xylem?

01 January 2022 → 31 December 2025
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Natural sciences
    • Mycology
    • Phytopathology
    • Plant ecology
    • Plant morphology, anatomy and physiology
embolism xylem ethylene plant-fungus interactions plant-water relations
Project description

Vascular wilt pathogens can cause enormous economic losses in annual crops and trees, and are notoriously difficult to control. The fungus Verticillium dahliae can infect many different plants and is one of the most destructive wilt pathogens. This soilborne pathogen enters the plant via the roots and invades the tissue that transports water through the entire plant, the so-called xylem. The presence of the fungus hampers the water flow through the xylem, causing the plant to wilt. Xylem contains only few nutrients, but vascular pathogens, such as V. dahliae, are able to grow and thrive in this environment. This means that they must have developed mechanisms to enrich the amount of nutrients in the xylem. The hormone ethylene is produced by both the fungus and the plant and may play a role in this process. V. dahliae infection leads to formation of defense structures and air-filled conduits in the xylem, processes that will impair the water flow. We hypothesize that the pathogen triggers as such the plant to restore the water flow by loading sugars into the xylem that then can be used by the pathogen to grow and thrive in this environment. In this Plantjacking project, we will use V. dahliae and pepper plants to study the effect of fungal infection on the sap flow and nutrient composition of the xylem. For this purpose, we will use advanced plant sensor and imaging technology in combination with metabolomics, microscopy, and molecular techniques.