Research Expertise and Interest
Mary Wildermuth is an associate professor in the Department of Plan & Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley. Plant-pathogen interactions are marvelously intricate, diverse, and highly integrated, with the disease outcome of the interaction dependent upon both pathogen and plant host factors and processes. Her long-term goal is to understand the mechanisms by which hosts and pathogens interact to redirect host metabolism and physiology. By studying compatible interactions, where disease occurs, we can identify host factors that alter the extent of pathogen growth and reproduction resulting in enhanced susceptibility or resistance. These host factors may be involved in host defense or utilized by the pathogen for its growth and reproduction. Arabidopsis thaliana is our model host of choice because of its small, sequenced diploid genome, six-week generation time, and unparalleled associated genetic and genomic resources. In addition, Arabidopsis research on phytohormones and disease resistance has both translated to agronomically important species and led to the identification of host regulatory components impacting human health (e.g. NB-LRR proteins involved in innate immunity). Furthermore, because pathogens have evolved to effectively manipulate fundamental host processes and this manipulation often occurs as an induced, localized response, plant pathosystems can uniquely allow us to elucidate components of fundamental biological processes such as the cell cycle. In her laboratory, they generate, analyze, and integrate biological information across disciplines to:
- Discover host processes of importance to an interaction through the use of systems-level data
- Uncover the process components and their regulation through detailed biochemical, molecular genetic, cell biological, and genomic analyses
- Elucidate the functional role of a process in the context of a given plant pathosystem using theoretical, informatic, and experimental approaches.
They then assess our findings in a broader context to determine common and divergent plant host mechanisms and associated control points across pathosystems and to inform our understanding of fundamental biological processes. They are particularly interested in integrating data from our lab with that of others to gain a holistic understanding of processes of importance to the sustained growth and reproduction of an adapted powdery mildew pathogen on its host plant. New initiatives include:
- NSF Creativity Award to further investigate the role of powdery mildew-induced plant cell endoreduplication on fungal growth and reproduction
- DOE Joint Genome Institute Community Science Program Project with Shauna Somerville and collaborators world-wide to sequence the genomes of eleven phylogenetically diverse powdery mildew fungi that colonize distinct plants to identify shared genes required for obligate biotrophy on plants, and specific genes that allow one powdery mildew, but not another, to colonize a given plant
- UC Bakar Fellowship to translate fundamental discoveries on disease resistance to agricultural species.
Additional projects in the lab focus on the stress hormone salicylic acid - its metabolism and function in plant defense.