Plant Health research areas

The Plant Health ISP brings together leading investigators from two institutes: the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory. These institutes are recognised for their excellence in the field of plant symbiosis, biological nitrogen fixation, plant-pathogen and plant-pest interactions.

Our research is organised into four themes: Recognition, Response, Susceptibility and Evolution.


The ability of plants to perceive molecular signals from beneficial or disease-causing microbes and pests is critical in helping the plant to coordinate an appropriate response.

We will investigate the genetic and molecular basis of recognition. Discovery and understanding of microbial recognition mechanisms in plants will allow for the transfer of this knowledge for engineering enhanced recognition abilities in crops using synthetic biology approaches.

Read more about the Recognition theme


Genetic dissection of plant-microbe/pest interactions has led to the discovery of many key players in the mechanism of plant signal transduction – the process by which the plant communicates the threat or benefit internally and coordinates a response. We will take a systems approach to focus on mechanisms for intracellular signal transductions during plant-microbe/pest interactions as well as the emerging field of cell to cell communication.

Read more about the Response theme


To be able to colonise plants, beneficial microbes, pathogens and pests produce ‘effectors’ which interact with specific plant targets to re-programme plant pathways. Some effectors induce dramatic changes in plants, such as pustules and galls that provide a local habitat for the pathogen and that promote their dispersal. In beneficial symbiotic associations signal exchange between the microbe and plant activates developmental processes that facilitate the colonisation of the host plant for example the development of nodules housing beneficial bacteria on the roots of pulse crops.

We will investigate the molecules that are targeted by effectors and use this knowledge to manipulate the balance between defence response and yield and responses to harmful verses beneficial organisms.

Read more about the Susceptibility theme


The close association between plants and other organisms drives the evolution of antagonistic traits in host-parasite interactions and of mutually beneficial traits in symbiotic relationships between plants and microbes.

Research into these interactions is increasing our knowledge of evolutionary processes in plants and associated organisms and therefore our ability to manipulate them to benefit stable food production. We will study the evolution of effectors, the adaptation of populations to fungal pathogens, and the dynamics of microbial communities associated with plants.

Read more about the Evolution theme

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