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Cambridge Immunology Network



We research various types of disease resistance in plants but we have a particular interest in one of them - RNA silencing - that has significance beyond infection. RNA silencing controls the level of gene expression at various stages of the plant life cycle. Some of these effects are epigenetic – they persist through cell division or even from one plant generation to the next. Our approach involves cell and molecular biology but the aim is always to understand plants at the whole organism or population level.

Optimising Disease Resistance

NB-LRR (nucleotide-binding leucine-rich repeat) proteins can be viewed as the plant equivalent of antibodies. These proteins, as a class, mediate resistance to a huge range of viruses, bacteria, fungi and invertebrates but individual NB-LRRs are specific to one or a few pests and pathogens. They serve as a switch in which molecular recognition of the pathogen triggers a transition from inactive to active (defense) signalling states. The newly published work used random mutagenesis (artificial evolution) to identify mutations that broaden the recognition specificity of an NB-LRR. In previous work the lab have shown that mutations can affect either the recognition or the signalling function of an NB-LRRs and, in a recent paper we illustrate how artificial evolution proceeding in small sequential steps can be used to optimise a new resistance phenotype. These findings could be used to inform design of NB-LRRs for use in agriculture.


Key publications: 

Du Z, Chen A, Chen W, Westwood JH, Baulcombe DC, Carr JP. Using a viral vector to reveal the role of microRNA159 in disease symptom induction by a severe strain of Cucumber mosaic virus. Plant Physiol. 2014 Mar;164(3):1378-88.

Harris CJ, Slootweg EJ, Goverse A, Baulcombe DC. Stepwise artificial evolution of a plant disease resistance gene. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Dec 24;110(52):21189-94. 

Baulcombe D. Plant science. Small RNA--the secret of noble rot. Science. 2013 Oct 4;342(6154):45-6.

Valli A, Oliveros JC, Molnar A, Baulcombe D, García JA. The specific binding to 21-nt double-stranded RNAs is crucial for the anti-silencing activity of Cucumber vein yellowing virus P1b and perturbs endogenous small RNA populations. RNA. 2011 Jun;17(6):1148-58. 

Harvey JJ, Lewsey MG, Patel K, Westwood J, Heimstädt S, Carr JP, Baulcombe DC. An antiviral defense role of AGO2 in plants. PLoS One. 2011 Jan 31;6(1):e14639. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014639.

Chiu MH, Chen IH, Baulcombe DC, Tsai CH. The silencing suppressor P25 of Potato virus X interacts with Argonaute1 and mediates its degradation through the proteasome pathway. Mol Plant Pathol. 2010 Sep;11(5):641-9.

Martín-Hernández AM, Baulcombe DC. Tobacco rattle virus 16-kilodalton protein encodes a suppressor of RNA silencing that allows transient viral entry in meristems. J Virol. 2008 Apr;82(8):4064-71.

Professor Sir David  Baulcombe
Not available for consultancy


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