Monthly Archives: May 2014

Fungal endophyte-grass symbiosis: deciphering the molecular crosstalk

Professor Barry Scott, Massey University

RSNZ Manawatu Branch May 2014 meeting

7.30 pm Tuesday, 20 May 2014, Te Manawa – Art Gallery, 326 Main Street, Palmerston North 

Epichloё endophytes are a group of fungi that form mutually beneficial symbiotic associations with temperate grasses in both natural and agricultural ecosystems. These fungi colonise the intercellular spaces of leaves and produce a range of novel metabolites that confer bioprotective benefits to the host, including protection from insect and mammalian predators, protection from fungal disease and drought tolerance. In return the host provides a specialised ecological niche for the endophyte to grow and a means for dissemination through the seed.

 The goal of my research programme is to understand the molecular dialogue that occurs between fungus and plant to regulate fungal synthesis of protective metabolites and restrict growth of the endophyte within the leaves so the interaction remains symbiotic. Using molecular genetic techniques we have cloned and characterised fungal genes for the synthesis of some of the key bioprotective metabolites, unravelled the biochemical pathways, and used this knowledge to develop molecular tests for rapid assessment of the metabolic potential of an association. Our pioneering work on one group of compounds led to a productive collaboration with a major international drug company.

In parallel we have used genetics to identify key fungal genes that regulate growth of the endophyte in the plant. This work has provided important new insights into what defines a symbiont versus a pathogen. Surprisingly, oxygen radicals are an important component of this signalling system. The proteins involved are closely related to those found in mammalian blood cells to produce oxygen radicals to kill microbial pathogens; a result highlighting the remarkable interconnectedness of different biological processes.

A strong theme of this talk will be the interconnectedness of the science underlying different biological processes and the importance of team-work and international collaboration in establishing those connections.

Barry Scott is Professor of Molecular Genetics at Massey University. His research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of agriculturally beneficial symbiotic interactions between plants and microbes. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of NZ in 2010 and awarded a Humboldt Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany) in 2014. He has been awarded the New Zealand Association of Scientists Marsden Medal (2013), a Massey University Research Medal for PhD supervision (2007) and the NZ Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology award for excellence in research (2005). He is a Director of New Zealand Genomics Ltd, a company set up to facilitate genomics research in NZ.

 All warmly welcome