Atomic force microscopy of the cell wall of a major wheat fungal pathogen

Grantham Scholar Cameron Colclough will investigate the cell wall of the fungal pathogen Septoria leaf blotch which is a disease of wheat. 

The project

Sustainable food production for an expanding population, in the face of increasing disease pressure, is essential for the elimination of hunger and malnutrition. This interdisciplinary project will enable us to utilise the power of pioneering atomic force microscopy techniques, to answer fundamental biological questions on cell wall structure and function in order to tackle a major constraint to maximising agricultural output.

The reliance on large areas of genetically identical crops makes modern intensive agriculture acutely susceptible to disease epidemics. Septoria leaf blotch (from its causal agent Zymoseptoria tritici) is a pervasive and destructive disease of wheat that results in hundreds of millions of pounds of crop losses in Western Europe alone. Outbreaks can be severe and reduce yields by almost 50%. Despite the prevalence and economic importance of Z. tritici, its cell biology remains critically under-studied. Fungal cell walls, due to their distinct biology make them a prime candidate on which control measures can act.

Atomic force microscopy not only provides high resolution images of biological specimens at near molecular scale but can also take nanomechanical measurements from samples. The aim of the project is to investigate the cell wall’s nanoscale architecture of this fungal pathogen. To understand the composition of the structural elements within the cell wall and with this information, to relate molecular make up with mechanical function. Biophysical approaches will be combined with more conventional biological imaging and genetic resources to elucidate the function of genes involved in cell wall structure. Targets on which control technologies can act can then be identified.



Professor Jamie Hobbs

Department of Physics and Astronomy