Novel Immune Pathway Discover

Plants are renowned for their proficiency in photosynthesis, producing oxygen and organic materials necessary for life on Earth. One underestimated capability of plants is their intricate cell-autonomous defense system that helps safeguard plants against microbial intruders including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. This immune system is essential for the survival of plants in diverse environments and can persist for thousands of years in long-lived trees. 

Our lab seeks to discover new plant defense pathways. Towards our goal, my laboratory undertakes a broad, interdisciplinary approach that combines bioinformatics, molecular and cell biology, biochemistry, organismal genetics, microbial pathogenesis, structural biology, and synthetic and systems biology to explore each of the following.

1. What are the new genetic and biochemical signaling pathways that plants employ to combat pathogen infections, and are these pathways conserved across evolution?

2. Do such signaling pathways operate in membrane-enclosed organelles or membrane-free compartments?

3. How does enzyme evolution influence the output of immune pathways and defense gene expression, and how do plants fine-tune immune responses to avoid autoimmune diseases, in maintaining a balanced defense system?

4. Can we engineer and rewire plant immune signaling circuits via synthetic approaches to generate durable disease-resistant crops to benefit agriculture and human health?

We will use the genetically tractable plant Arabidopsis thaliana as a model system and probe the molecular mechanisms of how it defends against three established phytopathogens that have been evolutionarily separated for ~4 billion years to uncover both conserved and unique defense pathways. We currently focus on the discovery and molecular characterization of a new plant defense strategy mobilized by membraneless biomolecular condensates that are assembled via liquid-liquid phase separation, a fundamental biophysical mechanism of the cellular organization that likely existed since the origin of life.