Natascha Weinberger


PhD candidate

Thesis Title

Friends with benefits, or a reluctant threesome? Plant-microbial partnerships and their effects on crop pathogens

Research Project

High losses of crop plants due to plant pathogens are representing a serious problem in agriculture. The need for more effective and sustainable control measures, like biological control, is essential. Arbuscular Mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are beneficial symbiotic soil microbes that are known to enhance plant nutrient supply. Moreover, recent evidence show that they are also able to enhance plant resistance to pathogens and could therefore serve as potential solution to yield loss caused by pathogens.

This so-called ‘mycorrhiza induced resistance’ (MIR) is a well-known phenomenon which is however, not well understood yet. Some findings already unravelled specific details of already much specialised pathways though the bigger picture for a proper understanding of MIR is still missing.
My aim is to investigate the first fundamental question of how the colonization level of AM fungi is involved in MIR and further on to decipher the underlying molecular mechanisms driving this. To answer this question, I am establishing a tripartite study system including an AM fungus (Rhizophagus irregularis) a crop plant (Solanum lycopersicum) and a pathogen (Phythophthora nicotianae). The use of different tools including phenotypic, transcriptomic and metabolomic observations will help to unravel the mechanism of MIR. Moreover, I will use different species of fungus, plant and pathogens to determine if these mechanisms are conserved in different species.

Investigating the tripartite interaction between plant, pathogens and AM fungi with an emphasis on MIR will allow me to help to decipher these complex interactions to further on improve the crop production of tomato as well as other crop plants by a more efficient use of AM fungi in agriculture.


A/Professor Jeff Powell, Dr Jonathan Plett, Professor Jurriaan Ton (Sheffield) and Dr Stephen Rolfe (Sheffield)