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Preview of plant pathogens

Preview of plant pathogens

Publish date: 2015-07-14

In the Department of Plant Protection and Biotechnology at the Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology UG&MUG, a subject of a particular care is potato, one of the major players in European kitchen and economy. Currently ongoing projects are focused on pectolytic plant pathogens of Pectrobacterium and Dickeya genus causing diseases such as blackleg and wet rot. Dr. Robert Czajkowski is planning to conduct a pioneering research within SONATA 8 grant of National Science Center, using a unique system analyzing bacterial genes expression induced during plant colonization.

Tags: Pectrobacterium , Dickeya , blackleg , wet rot , plant pathogens , potato , gene expression , plant protection

For a layman the word “potato” probably does not remind science, and particularly molecular biology. For You, however, that plant had somehow paved the career direction. How did You get interested in plant pathogens?

R.C.: To say the truth, I haven’t planned my scientific career – however, from the very beginning, I wanted to be a microbiologist. I was interested in bacteria and their interaction with higher organisms. I’ve never wanted to work with bacteria infecting people, so in a natural way I’ve focused on plant pathogens. Where did potato come from? It was rather a fortuity: potato is an excellent model organism as well as a plant of an economic value, which is not meaningless when you apply for always limited research financing. Pectolytic bacteria affecting potato are very interesting, and in spite of being examined for a long time, they still remain a mystery.

Current project concerns interaction of pathogens with plant during ongoing infection. Why is such research important?

R.C.: The issue of pectolytic bacteria has been examined by researchers for a long time and now we know a lot about what is going on in potato tissue during bacterial infection. We know, that pectolytic pathogens infection cause dramatic losses in global agriculture, for example only in Europe those losses reach even 250 million euro each year and are still increasing. Bacteria  cause also big losses in Poland in potato production, but it also concerns others crops and ornamental plants. Pectolytic bacteria produce various enzymes being excreted to the environment – those enzymes have the ability to destroy plant tissues, stalks, roots and potato tubers.

On the other hand, still not much is known about how the infection begins and what are the first stages. This situation results from several facts. First, from quite a small interest of scientists in this particular stage of infection, but also from technical limitations in examining first phases of plant tissue infection. The are only few models, which characterize those interactions, and existing ones describe rather beneficial interplay, such as between bacteria Rhizobium and legumes.

It is assumed, that plant colonization by pathogenic bacteria is under a precise genetic control, in which specific bacterial genes are being switched on and off dependently of infection and colonization stage, plant tissue type, host species and various environmental conditions. In my research I proposed a unique system analyzing bacterial genes expression induced during plant colonization, combined with a direct microscopic observation of bacterial localization during various stages of infection – such a system has not yet been used in any analysis of interactions between pectolytic bacteria and potato, therefore I find this project very interesting and I think it will bring up this scientific issue to a wider audience. Results of my research will serve to construct a model of pectolytic bacteria and plant interactions. Such a model would be further utilized to analyze interaction of other pathogenic bacteria with their plant hosts.

And how identification of specific genes may be useful in practical plant protection?

R.C.: As I said, our knowledge of how bacteria colonize plants and start infection is small – the project will not solve the problem directly, however it will help to better understand how infection proceeds, and therefore, will allow to identify those time points, in which we can prevent the development of disease symptoms in plants. Wider knowledge and understanding of infection process allows to develop effective compounds or methods of plant protection against those pathogens. There is a long way to go, but our journey must have a beginning...

Is Polish agriculture a fertile ground for modern plant protection? What is Your opinion?

R.C.: I think, that we start to better understand how important agriculture is and what should be done to increase its effectiveness. Poland is an agricultural country, which has large areas of good soils and perfect temperature conditions for virtually any type of crops and ornamental plants in Europe, but still having relatively low yield, as compared to other E.U. countries.

Maybe I can give one example. The average potato yield in Poland in about 18 tons per hectare, while in the Netherlands this yield exceeds 45-60 tons per hectare, that is almost 3.5 times more – this is not due to a better soil in the Netherlands, but to better agricultural technology and a better understanding of crops value for the society. We must not neglect our agriculture, yet we all like fresh (and Polish) fruits and vegetables, also potatoes. But such plants will be on out plates only if we better fight plant diseases.

Thank You for the interview.

 

 

 

Dr. Robert Czajkowski

A graduate of the Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology of University of Gdansk and Medical University of Gdansk (2006). Scholar of the Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, Germany (2006-2007) and doctoral studies in the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences in Wageningen, the Netherlands (2007-2011). Postdoctoral researcher at Plant Research International in Wageningen, the Netherlands (2011-2012). Since 2012 the Assistant Professor in the Department of Biotechnology at the Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology UG&MUG. The Secretary of the Polish Society of Experimental Plant Biology.

 

Monika Kossakowska-Zwierucho

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