Molecular plant-(gemini)virus interactions
Plants live under the constant menace of pathogen attack. In order to protect themselves from biotic threats, plants have evolved sophisticated defence mechanisms to perceive non-self and mount responses to keep invading pathogens in check. Among the plant pathogens posing a threat to food security, viruses, acellular intracellular parasites, are causal agents of devastating crop diseases worldwide. Apart from the obvious economic and practical interest propelling the study of viruses, these pathogens are an excellent model system to gain insight into plant processes. Understanding how viruses manipulate plant biology to promote their own replication and spread and how plants perceive the viral infection and mount defence responses is paramount to design effective strategies for crop resistance. Considering that virus-caused diseases result in dramatic losses in cultivated crops worldwide every year, unravelling the molecular and physiological mechanisms underlying infection and resistance is urgent, as it is applying this newly-acquired knowledge in biotechnological and breeding initiatives.
The overarching goal of our group is to understand the interactions between plants and viruses at the molecular and cellular level, shedding light on how viruses manipulate and tailor plant development and physiology to favour the infection. Equipped with an extremely limited armoury, viruses, through protein-protein interactions, re-wire the existing gene and hormonal networks, creating a cellular environment optimal for viral replication and spread and modifying plant responses to environmental cues. In addition, the level of adaptation that the extraordinarily fast pace of viral evolution enables makes viral proteins unparalleled probes to study plant development and defence processes, allowing for the identification of novel players involved in the plethora of pathways targeted by viruses. To gain insight into the viral manipulation of development and the host’s response, we apply a combination of molecular biology, cell biology, genomics, genetics, and bioinformatics, incorporating cutting-edge technologies in imaging, gene editing, and whole-genome sequencing approaches, and use both model plants (Arabidopsis thaliana and Nicotiana benthamiana) and crops (tomato).
Our research is focused on one particular family of plant viruses, called Geminiviruses. Geminiviruses are insect-transmitted plant viruses with small circular, single-stranded (ss) DNA genome. Members of this family cause severe plant diseases around the globe, affecting all major crops.
We are particularly interested in understanding:
- The manipulation of the plant cell nucleus by geminiviruses.
- Geminiviral DNA replication.
- Perception of, defence against, and counterdefence by geminiviruses.
- Interplay between geminiviral infection and plant development.
- Novel viral virulence strategies.
(For additional details on our research, check out our recent PUBLICATIONS!).