Emma is researching the impact of fungal pathogens on cell-to-cell communication in plants.
Plant cells possess specialised structures called plasmodesmata, which provide direct passageways for soluble and membrane-associated molecules between adjacent cells. This intercellular communication can be tightly regulated, and is important for co-ordinating plant development and environmental responses.
However, plasmodesmata also enable the movement of pathogens and their secreted ‘effector’ proteins throughout plant tissues, enabling infection establishment on susceptible hosts.
The fungal pathogen, Colletotrichum higginsianum, causes disease on many plants in the Brassicaceae family, including the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana.
Emma is studying an effector from C. higginsianum that localises to plasmodesmata and manipulates their function. As part of both the Faulkner and Banfield labs, she is using a combination of confocal microscopy, protein crystallography and genetic experiments to study how and why plasmodesmata are targeted during infection.