Phytopathology and plant protection
Keeping crops healthy is an enormous challenge for agriculture and horticulture throughout the common society. Beside ensuring them as human food and animal feed as well as natural resources for industry, the aspect of climate- and environment-protection is gaining continuously more importance.
We carry out basic research including the potential of intermediate crops and alternative soil-amendments such as compost and Biochar to reduce or eliminate plant pathogenes. Furthermore, we analyse the function of root exudates in the plant-pathogen interaction using the model system Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. lycopersici and tomato as well as Sclerotinia sclerotiorum and soybean. Based on our results we develop new and sustainable methods to control plant diseases.
Moreover, we work on solutions related to current problems in plant protection concerning biological and integrated crop-, vegetable- and ornamental plant production as well as viticulture and pomology.
Microbial interactions in plant health
Plant pathogenes cause huge losses in plant production due to reduced crop quantity and quality. Strong laws regulating the allowance of chemical-synthetic pesticides and growing demand on biologically produced food require sustainable strategies against plant diseases. In order to develop such approaches we analyse interactions between crop plants and pathogenic, symbiotic and antagonistic microorganisms. To do that, we perform in-vitro as well as applied experiments by using a set of interdisciplinary methods.
The current research focus is put on the interaction between crop plants, arbuscular mycorrhiza and endophytic sebacinales fungi and their effects on development of soil-born pathogenes.
Plant-parasitic cyst and root-knot nematodes cause substantial crop losses in the agriculture worldwide, estimated annually at several billion Euros. Especially the cyst nematodes are a particular threat as their cysts are very durable and can remain viable for many years in the soil. The group “Molecular nematology” analyses the formation and further development of the feeding sites induced by cyst and root-knot nematodes within the host root. We investigate these processes with different methods of molecular biology. The obtained results significantly help to understand how the nematodes maintain their feeding sites and their nutrient supply. This knowledge can be used for the development of new crop varieties with increased tolerance or resistance towards plant-parasitic nematodes.
Sedentary plant-parasitic nematodes are of great economic and scientific interest. Cyst nematodes induce a syncytium in the roots of host plants to serve as a feeding site for the nematodes. We are using the model system Arabidopsis thaliana and the beet cyst nematode Heterodera schachtii to study genes that are strongly upregulated or downregulated in syncytia. These genes could be possible targets to genetically engineer resistance against nematodes. The second area of research in our group are antimicrobial peptides from plants. At the moment we are especially interested to establish expression systems that would enable us to produce antimicrobial peptides for in vitro activity studies with target bacteria and fungi. This could identify peptides, for which only the gene sequence is known, for use in plant protection or in human or veterinary medicine. One group of plant specific antimicrobial peptides are the thionins which are produced in plants as proproteins that contain an acidic extension. We are studying the processing of these precursors in Arabidopsis.