Fungal infection of plants is an ongoing major threat to human agriculture, thus stressing the importance of the research proposed in this project. The fungal pathogens studied in the US lab of the PI and the two labs in Germany, serve as models for understanding basic mechanisms of infections, but also for understanding host specificity and emerging infectious disease through host shifts. It is expected to gain alternative perspectives to address these research themes by the collaborative approaches. This IRES project provides an opportunity to 7 students each year to participate in the exchange. Although all three labs work with fungi, each has its own areas of expertise and each provides different approaches for conducting research. Each summer, a joint meeting will take place with all participants and PIs to discuss and present the ongoing projects in a unified group setting, alternating each year in Bochum or in Aachen, Germany. This project is of particular importance because it may lead to the development of new methods for protecting agricultural crop plants from fungal diseases. Also, this project will allow active participation by students and help them develop skills in experimental design, and broaden participation in basic science by underrepresented groups (especially, African-Americans, women, and Appalachian students).
The unifying research theme for this proposal is host/pathogen interaction, including components of virulence and overall fitness of the pathogen. This project requires, and will benefit from, training in the two German labs, rather than having all students work in the same lab. First, the collaboration with two labs spreads the responsibility of the host labs and allows for more students (i.e., up to 7) to participate each year in the exchange. It is expected that the strong impact of these collaborative research/training exchanges will be in the longer-term appreciation of cultural differences and alternative approaches to research questions. The broader investigation of fungal/host interactions will benefit from this varied, collaborative approach by streamlining exchange of ideas and expertise. The proposed effector and protein interaction studies will be used by a wide community of scientists interested in basic fungal biology, host-parasite interactions, fungal evolution, and the development of new methods for protecting agricultural crop plants from fungal diseases and could lead to a better understanding of the basic infection mechanisms and disease process of obligate plant-parasitic fungi. Educational opportunities for students will be provided to actively participate in fungal genetics, transcriptomics and bio-informatics research, to learn fluorescence and electron microscopy techniques, to develop skills in experimental design, and will broaden the participation in basic science by underrepresented groups (specifically, African-Americans, women, and Appalachian students).
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.