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Cambridge Immunology Network



Plants constantly engage in interactions with microbial organisms. These interactions can either be detrimental such as those with the economically relevant fungus-like oomycete Phytophthora infestans, the causal agent of the Irish Potato Famine or beneficial to supply phosphate such as in symbiotic interactions with mycorrhizal fungi that occur in most plant species.

Both, pathogenic and mutualistic symbioses follow structurally similar developmental processes to establish intracellular interfaces. It is generally accepted that both, plants and microorganisms contribute to the formation of dedicated accommodation structures. However, we know little about the underlying molecular mechanisms that drive differentiation of host cells and tissues to form intracellular interfaces.

The Schornack group aims to characterize the extent to which beneficial and detrimental microorganisms employ similar plant developmental processes for colonization. To this end we plan to assess the overlap between Mycorrhiza processes and root infection by the biotrophic pathogen Phytophthora palmivora and will characterize genetic elements with common functions. Furthermore, we will elucidate the role of microbial effectors for development of plant cells into intracellular accommodation structures. This work will reveal the boundaries between symbiosis and pathogenesis and will provide novel insights into plant development driven by biotic cues.


Key publications: 

Rey T, Schornack S. Interactions of beneficial and detrimental root-colonizing filamentous microbes with plant hosts. Genome Biol. 2013 Jun 25;14(6):121. 

Schornack S, Moscou MJ, Ward ER, Horvath DM. Engineering plant disease resistance based on TAL effectors. Annu Rev Phytopathol. 2013;51:383-406.

van Damme M, Bozkurt TO, Cakir C, Schornack S, Sklenar J, Jones AM, Kamoun S. The Irish potato famine pathogen Phytophthora infestans translocates the CRN8 kinase into host plant cells. PLoS Pathog. 2012 Aug;8(8):e1002875. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002875.

Lu Y.J.*, Schornack S.*, Spallek T., Geldner N., Chory J., Schellmann S., Schumacher K., Kamoun S., Robatzek S. Patterns of plant subcellular responses to successful oomycete infections reveal differences in host cell reprogramming and endocytic trafficking. Cell Microbiol. 2012 [epub] * shared first authors

Bozkurt, T.O.*, Schornack, S.*, Win, J., Shindo, T., Oliva, R., Cano, L.M., Jones, A.M.E., Huitema, E., van der Hoorn, R.A.L., Kamoun, S. Phytophthora infestans effector AVRblb2 prevents focal secretion of a plant immune protease, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2011 108(51), * shared first authors

Chaparro-Garcia A., Wilkinson R.C., Gimenez-Ibanez S., Findlay K., Coffey M.D., Zipfel C., Rathjen J.P., Kamoun S.*, Schornack S.* The Receptor-Like Kinase SERK3/BAK1 Is Required for Basal Resistance against the Late Blight Pathogen Phytophthora infestans in Nicotiana benthamiana. PLoS ONE 2011 6(1). * shared corresponding authors

Schornack S.*, van Damme M.*, Bozkurt T.O., Cano L.M., Smoker M., Thines M., Gaulin E., Kamoun S., Huitema E.  Ancient class of translocated oomycete effectors targets the host nucleus. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2010 107(40). * shared corresponding authors

Other Professional Activities

October 2020, International Online Symposium, The Role of Microbes in Plant Health, Main organiser


September 2020, News Feature; New insights could help plants fortify walls against root pathogens,


May 2019, University of Cambridge News Portal, Enemy at the Gates,


March 2019, BBC Cambridgeshire, Naked Scientists radio interview and podcast,


February 2019, The Scientist Magazine, Clues to How Ancient Plants Handled Fungal Pests, Interview and Article with Jef Akst,


January 2019, tour of our department and discussion session with the Imperial Botanical Society of Imperial College, London

Dr Sebastian  Schornack
Takes PhD students
Available for consultancy


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