Dr Guru Radhakrishnan

Research Fellow BBSRC Discovery Fellow Designing Future Wheat, Plant Health

As a recipient of the prestigious BBSRC Discovery Fellowship award, Guru is currently working on building an integrative model of how pathogens cause disease on plants through large-scale analysis of genomics data.

Guru’s interdisciplinary research programme is aimed at tackling one of the biggest hurdles to global food security – crop diseases. His goal is to develop genetic tools that can be quickly engineered to control the spread of crop pathogens. His current work addresses this by developing a long-needed understanding of the mechanisms used by the Puccinia rust fungi to infect plants.

Prior to this, during his postdoctoral research, Guru worked on developing better and quicker methods for monitoring pathogen evolution. By combining a novel computational method with lab protocols that require minimal equipment, Guru and his teammates invented a mobile surveillance system that provides information on how pathogens are evolving in near-real-time. They then successfully demonstrated the utility of their Mobile And Real-time PLant disEase (MARPLE) diagnostics system to track pathogen evolution in the field in Ethiopia (Radhakrishnan & Colleagues, BMC Biology 2019). The team’s work on the MARPLE diagnostics system was recognised through an Innovator of the Year award for International Impact in 2019 from the BBSRC.

Before this, during his PhD study, Guru worked as part of the Engineering Nitrogen-fixing Symbiosis for Africa (ENSA) project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of this work, he contributed to several seminal discoveries in the field of plant-microbe interactions:

  1. Large-scale data analyses revealed that a single conserved genetic pathway may control the ability of plants to form beneficial relationships with many different types of microbes. (Radhakrishnan and colleagues, bioRxiv 2019)
  2. The genetic components that allow modern-day plants to form beneficial relationships with microorganisms in the soil were already present in the aquatic algal ancestors of plants. (Delaux, Radhakrishnan and colleagues, PNAS 2015)
  3. For nearly two decades, the identity of a central gene that helped plants to form beneficial relationships with microorganisms was unknown. Through a concerted interdisciplinary research effort the identity of this elusive gene was uncovered (Charpentier and colleagues, Science 2016)
  4. The long-held hypothesis that plants provide only sugars as food to beneficial soil fungi was overturned with the finding that they also provide fatty acids in exchange for other nutrients in the soil (Luginbuehl & colleagues, Science 2017)