A multi-layered mechanistic modelling approach to understand how effector genes extend beyond phytoplasma to modulate plant hosts, insect vectors and the environment.

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Members of the Candidatus genus Phytoplasma are small bacterial pathogens that hijack their plant hosts via the secretion of virulence proteins (effectors) leading to a fascinating array of plant phenotypes, such as witch's brooms (stem proliferations) and phyllody (retrograde development of flowers into vegetative tissues). Phytoplasma depend on insect vectors for transmission, and interestingly, these insect vectors were found to be (in)directly attracted to plants with these phenotypes. Therefore, phytoplasma effectors appear to reprogram plant development and defence to lure insect vectors, similarly to social engineering malware, which employs tricks to lure people to infected computers and webpages. A multi-layered mechanistic modelling approach will enable a better understanding of how phytoplasma effector-mediated modulations of plant host development and insect vector behaviour contribute to phytoplasma spread, and ultimately to predict the long reach of phytoplasma effector genes.