The oomycetes are a distinct lineage of Eukaryotic microbes that resemble fungi, but are genetically related to the heterokont (brown) algae. Oomycetes have a worldwide distribution and are destructive and highly adaptable pathogens, infecting vascular plants, fish, insects fungi and occasionally humans. Notorious crop damaging pathogens such as the potato late blight pathogen Phytophthora infestans, vegetable root rots and (re)-emerging diseases such as fish saprolegniosis and Sudden Oak Death are global threats to food security and our natural ecosystems.
Comparative genomics in the oomycetes reveals major classes of effector proteins used by pathogens to manipulate hosts that can also be recognised by host immune systems. The major challenges in oomycete research are to identify the precise biochemical functions of major pathogenicity determinants (such as effector proteins) and host immune responses (such as plant resistance genes) and translate this research into durable disease control in agriculture, ecosystems and aquaculture. We have assembled a multidisciplinary, inter-sectoral team including some of Europe’s leading researchers in the field, SMEs, multinational companies and government agencies to train the next generation of European researchers to address these challenges.
PROTECTA aims for the large-scale quantification of effector gene expression and protein abundance during the infection process of oomycetes that infect diverse crop, tree, and fish hosts. We will advance our fundamental understanding of the genetics and biochemistry of host-oomycete interactions on an unprecedented scale. We will exploit this data to identify new mechanisms of host resistance and work directly with crop breeding and aquaculture companies to translate our results into new crop varieties with durable resistance, new ways to protect Salmonid fish in aquaculture, and new biological control methods to protect agricultural systems and reduce European dependence on chemical pesticides.

Our research is divided over four different scientific work packages

  1. Large scale effector mining and comparative analysis in the oomycetes
  2. Biochemical analysis of oomycete effectors and their host targets
  3. Effector-assisted breeding and translational research
  4. Ecology, diversity and management of oomycete diseases

1. Large scale effector mining and comparative analysis in the oomycetes

The Objectives of this workpackage are:

  1. Analysis of core effector expression during host interactions (plant and animal cells).
  2. Analysis of host gene expression in response to the core effector repertoire.
  3. Molecular and biochemical characterization of effector-host protein complexes (in solanum, legumes, fish (cell lines)).
  4. Identification/characterisation of key effector proteins from S. parasitica P. oligandrum and Aphanomyces species.
  5. Identification of new oomycete effectors that e.g. act as suppressors of host silencing mechanisms.
  6. Identification of P. infestans effectors that manipulate secreted host enzymes

2. Biochemical analysis of oomycete effectors and their host targets

The Objectives of this workpackage are:

  1. Analysis of core effector expression during host interactions (plant and animal cells).
  2. Analysis of host gene expression in response to the core effector repertoire.
  3. Molecular and biochemical characterization of effector-host protein complexes (in solanum, legumes, fish (cell lines)).
  4. Identification/characterisation of key effector proteins from S. parasitica P. oligandrum and Aphanomyces species.
  5. Identification of new oomycete effectors that e.g. act as suppressors of host silencing mechanisms.
  6. Identification of P. infestans effectors that manipulate secreted host enzymes

3. Effector-assisted breeding and translational research

The Objectives of this workpackage are:

  1. To improve effector assisted breeding strategies in potato, sugar beet and strawberry through the exploitation of core and stable oomycete effectors in breeding programmes.
  2. Identification of the genetic source of resistance to Aphanomyces in sugar beet.
  3. Generation of nearly isogenic potato lines (NILs) and hybrids with different resistance genes to P. infestans effectors.
  4. To exploit new oomycete effector expression and evolution data for the development of effector assisted breeding and/or disease management programmes in potato, sugar beet, wild strawberry and other crops.

4. Ecology, diversity and management of oomycete diseases

The Objectives of this workpackage are:

  1. To map the species diversity, ecology and environmental risks related to oomycete diseases in the different pathosystems studied within PROTECTA.
  2. To assess the potential environmental risks/benefits of oomycete biocontrol agent P. oligandrum
  3. To produce new, effective formulations of P. oligandrum for crop protection