James Brown’s group studies the evolution of plant diseases, especially fungal diseases of crops and trees, with the aim of improving disease control in farming and forestry.
He is especially interested in evolution in realistic situations: durable resistance to multiple diseases in elite crop varieties, pest and disease resistance in natural woodland, adaptive evolution of pathogen species and communities, and the challenge of achieving sustainable disease control in productive agriculture.
Current projects in James’s lab include:
- Genetics of resistance to multiple pathogens, including resistances of wheat to biotrophic fungi (powdery mildew and rusts) and necrotrophic diseases (Septoria and blast), and possible trade-offs between the responses of ash trees to ash dieback and insect pests (emerald ash borer and model species)
- The impact of genetic uniformity in crops on disease control, including the global dispersal of novel genotypes of rust fungi and the potential for controlling them by breeding for durable resistance.
- Using deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to improve breeding for resistance to multiple diseases.
- Evolution and genetics of pathogen insensitivity to fungicides
- Theory of coevolution of plants and their parasites, especially how the simplified ecosystem of intensive arable farming accelerate pathogen evolution and makes disease resistance less durable.
In addition, James is setting up seed nurseries of ash and elm, applying concepts from plant breeding to develop new tree populations with enhanced resistance to ash dieback and Dutch elm disease respectively.