Professor Renier van der Hoorn awarded grant from the European Research Council

Professor Renier van der Hoorn has received a grant from the European Research Council to continue his work looking into unlocking extracellular immunity for new crop protection strategies.

New crop protection strategies are essential to feeding a growing world population. Plant pathogens decrease food production by between 18 and 30%, and these losses are expected to increase with climate change and reduced agrochemical use.

Most plant-pathogenic bacteria, fungi, and oomycetes colonize the extracellular compartment (apoplast) of plants, and are exposed to a vast array of potentially harmful metabolites and hydrolytic enzymes secreted by the plant. These enzymes provide basal, multigenic immunity that is hardly understood and barely used for crop protection.

There are several challenges facing research about unlocking the potential of this extra layer of immunity. These include the redundancies in the extracellular immune network, adapted pathogens suppressing extracellular immunity, and the research bias towards only a few extracellular immune components.

Professor van der Hoorn’s project is to unlock this extracellular immunity for new crop protection strategies. His research proposes radically different approach to those studied before: studying secreted host proteins that are manipulated, uncovered by cutting-edge functional chemical proteomics.

This involves using activity- and reactivity-based probes and crosslinkers, to display manipulations of secreted proteins from a unique, unbiassed angle and at an unprecedented broad scale. This will uncover host targets manipulated by proteins, metabolites and post-translational modifications that are phenotypically hidden by network redundancies and by pathogen-mediated suppressions.

"The grant matters to me because I can now gather a research team to do really exciting stuff. Studying the plant-pathogen interface with chemical proteomics has great potential and we are going to be the first and only lab in the world doing this," Professor van der Hoorn says.

This project will focus on conserved host targets that are manipulated by multiple pathogens, and is supported by exciting preliminary data and a powerful pathosystem in which both host and pathogen can be manipulated.