Dilip Shah,

PhD

Associate Member

The Book That Changed His Life

The book Human Genetics by A.M. Winchester changed Dilip’s life.

After reading it while he was an undergrad, Dilip instantly knew that he wanted to pursue plant science. “In the book, Winchester talked about how Gregory Mendel got involved in looking at some of the traits in pea plants. That’s what really got me excited about plants. After that, I decided I was going to study plant genetics.”

And with that realization, Dilip left his home state of Gujarat, India to pursue his PhD in plant genetics at North Carolina State University. Today, he is principal investigator and associate research member at the Danforth Center.

A New Beginning

Dilip joined the Danforth Center on November 1, 2001, the same day that our original building was inaugurated. “When I first came to the Danforth Center, I was suddenly working with PIs that studied plant cell biology, plant structural biology, plant biochemistry. It was really very exciting to have the opportunity to collaborate with them. It was extremely gratifying,” explains Dilip.

The Art of Fungal War

Dilip’s lab studies how plants defend themselves against fungal diseases. The goal of their research is to discover new ways to enable plants to better protect themselves from fungal attacks. To do this, they research antifungal peptides that have the ability to kill pathogens. Once Dilip’s lab understands how a peptide eliminates a pathogen, his lab can then apply the peptides to make crops resistant to a specific disease. 

One of the fungal diseases that Dilip and his lab are researching is Gray Mold Disease, which causes multi-millions of US dollars in pre- and postharvest losses across the world. Gray mold is caused by a fungus Botrytis cinerea that can infect flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Dilip’s lab is working on technology that, when applied, could potentially control gray mold in multiple economically important plants. 

Dilip’s work also has significant implications for the future of food security. In agriculture, 15-20% of crops are lost each year because of the fungal diseases. By making plants more disease resistant, Dilip could reduce that statistic. For a smallholder farmer where each bushel is critical to feeding the community, reducing crop loss could drastically improve human health.

Making Crop Protection More Sustainable

Crop protection is a priority for farmers all over the world, from smallholder farms in developing countries to 3,000 acre operations in Iowa. With Dilip’s technology, farmers will be able to use non-toxic chemical fungicide and use less of it, helping to make crop protection more sustainable for years to come.

Despite having a significant impact on agriculture through past and current discoveries, Dilip is not done yet: “I know I need to keep going because there is still much to discover and much to invent. There is a great opportunity to make a difference in crop protection.”

A career achievement that he's proud of

"I have 7 patents on antifungal peptides and their use in controlling fungal diseases to my name."

Something others might not know

"I love Bollywood music."

What he does to clear his head

"Playing tennis is my Sunday morning ritual."

A career achievement that he's proud of

"I have 7 patents on antifungal peptides and their use in controlling fungal diseases to my name."

Something others might not know

"I love Bollywood music."

What he does to clear his head

"Playing tennis is my Sunday morning ritual."

Get in touch with Dilip Shah

Research Team
Research Summary

The Shah laboratory investigates modes of action of antifungal plant defensins and defensin-like peptides to enable development of fungal disease resistant crops for yield protection.

Dilip Shah

Principal Investigator

Zhenbin Hu

Postdoctoral Associate

He Jiang

Research Scientist

Hui Li

Research Scientist

Meenakshi Tetorya

Postdoctoral Fellow

Siva Velivelli

Research Scientist

Hengyou Zhang

Postdoctoral Associate

Dilip Shah

Principal Investigator

Zhenbin Hu

Postdoctoral Associate

He Jiang

Research Scientist

Hui Li

Research Scientist

Meenakshi Tetorya

Postdoctoral Fellow

Siva Velivelli

Research Scientist

Hengyou Zhang

Postdoctoral Associate

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Modes of action of antifungal defensins and defensin-like peptides and their use in development of disease resistant crops.

Research in the Shah Lab is directed toward obtaining a better understanding of the innate immunity mechanisms through which plants protect themselves from fungal pathogens. Critical discoveries from our group include the finding that plants produce a large number of small cysteine-rich antifungal peptides known as defensins and

defensin-like peptides. Fundamental basic science approaches using modern techniques of protein biochemistry, microbiology, cell biology and plant pathology are applied to the analysis of the antifungal properties and modes of action of these peptides against economically important fungal pathogens of plants with the goal of translating this information into improved disease control for crop species. 

Plant defensins are naturally occurring ribosomally synthesized cysteine-rich antifungal peptides with a tetradisulfide array. These peptides vary greatly in sequence but share common structural similarity. We have studied the antifungal activity and mechanisms of action of a number of these peptides from a model legume Medicago truncatula. These peptides exhibit potent antifungal activity at low micromolar or submicromolar concentrations against a broad range of plant fungal pathogens, but their mechanisms of action are strikingly different. The mode-of-action studies have revealed that these peptides permeabilize the plasma membrane of fungal pathogens, induce the production of reactive oxygen species and gain entry into fungal cells. However, they bind to different phospholipids in the membranes. Surprisingly, closely related fungal pathogens also vary in their responses to a specific plant defensin. 

Leguminous plants form a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria known as Rhizobium spp. These bacteria undergo dramatic differentiation to bacteroids in the indeterminate nodules of legumes such as Medicago truncatula and Cicer arientum.  During this differentiation process, nodules of these plants express a large number of small cysteine-rich defensin-like peptides. Several of these peptides are cationic that are capable of inhibiting fungal and bacterial pathogens at low micromolar concentrations. Shah Lab is investigating antimicrobial activity, structure-activity relationships and mechanisms of action of these defensin-like peptides containing 2-or 3 disulfide bonds. The current studies in the lab are focused on characterizing molecular processes involved in facilitating fungal cell entry of these peptides and identifying their intracellular targets. Numerous questions remain in this field and are the topics of ongoing research in the lab. 

The ultimate goal in the Shah Lab is to characterize precise molecular events governing the antifungal activity of defensins and defensin-like peptides from plants and to translate this information for effective and sustainable control of fungal diseases in the field. The Shah Lab is also exploring the potential of these peptides for commercial development as peptide-based spray-on antifungal agents in crops.