Research Project: A Multi-Scale Approach to Unearth the Root of Plant Disease Resistance

Plant root diseases cause up to 90 percent of disease loss. The best means of control is through breeding plant varieties that are resistant to potentially damaging diseases. Using tomato and a soilborne bacterial pathogen as a model, Dr. Iyer-Pascuzzi will focus on how roots mediate disease-resistance. Her research will explore which genes are associated with root-mediated resistance, how diseases changes root architecture, and whether roots and shoots signal each other to suppress disease symptoms.

iyer_photo_ffarAbout Dr. Iyer-Pascuzzi

Assistant Professor, Purdue University

As a child, my family and I would travel to India, my father’s native country. One of my earliest memories is driving through the streets of Mumbai, humbled by the children knocking on the car windows, begging for food. I believe my desire to alleviate global hunger was planted then. In a plant biology course at UC Berkeley, I realized I loved plant pathology, a subject with captivating biology that also addresses problems critical to global hunger. As a graduate student with Susan McCouch at Cornell, I focused on resistance in rice to Xanthomonas oryzae, and cloned the recessive resistance gene xa5. For my postdoc, I explored something different and studied roots in Philip Benfey’s lab at Duke. I was part of a team that developed a root architecture imaging system, and I examined Arabidopsis root cell-type specific responses to stress. My postdoc cemented a desire to continue in both root biology and plant pathology. My laboratory at Purdue combines these passions. Soilborne pathogens are responsible for severe crop loss each year. Roots are critical for resistance, but we understand very little of how roots defend themselves. The long-term goals of my laboratory are to identify the genes underlying root resistance to soilborne pathogens and to understand how they function, using the tomato – Ralstonia solanacearum pathosystem as a model. I love root biology and plant pathology because they combine fascinating biology with the ability to improve food security.