KU Leuven

We have secured FNRS/FWO funding for a postdoctoral researcher as part of a larger collaborative project on plant immunity priming within the group of Prof. Barbara De Coninck (KU Leuven), in collaboration with Dr. Marc Ongena (ULiège). The Plant Health and Protection (PHP) lab of Prof. Barbara De Coninck (www.kuleuven.be/phplab) conducts fundamental research on plant-microbe interactions. We implement a variety of microscopic, molecular and omics approaches to study plant beneficial micro-organisms and their corresponding elicitors trigger immune responses in the plant. The MiPI lab of Dr. Marc Ongena (www.terra.uliege.be), investigates the molecular mechanisms underlying the biocontrol potential of plant-associated bacteria, which includes the ability to trigger systemic resistance via their so-called bioactive secondary metabolites. For this project, we are looking for a postdoctoral researcher to study how the cyclic lipopeptide, surfactin, produced by the beneficial microorganism Bacillus velezensis triggers induced resistance in plants.

Biopesticides based on plant-beneficial bacteria (PBB) are an important alternative tool for crop protection. These PBB exert their protective effect against diseases through direct antagonism or via the stimulation of “induced systemic resistance” (IR) in the plant. IR leads to a more rapid and robust defense response activation in the plant upon pathogen infection. The IR phenotype triggered by PBB is a powerful phenomenon of high interest to be implemented in the crop protection toolbox. However, its molecular basis is still poorly understood. The MiPl previously identified the cyclic lipopeptide surfactin, produced by the PBB Bacillus velezensis, as elicitor of IR. Interestingly, we showed that perception of surfactin at the plant cell plasma membrane relies on a unique process, which integrates docking into specific lipid nanodomains and mechano-sensing and induces atypical early immune events. This phenomenon goes beyond the paradigm of receptor-dependent perception of microbes in Pattern-Triggered Immunity and represents a new aspect of plant-bacteria molecular interactions (manuscript in review, see preprint at: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2023.07.04.547613v2).

Based on the background information collected in the labs of Prof. De Coninck and Dr. Ongena, we suspect cell-type dependent responsiveness of roots upon surfactin treatment. In this project we will investigate the spatiotemporal gene expression reprogramming upon surfactin treatment via single-cell RNA-seq. Our objective is to trace the trajectory of immune events from the elicited roots to the leaves and identify signaling pathways and key events leading to systemicity of the defense response.

To apply for this job please visit www.kuleuven.be.