Kirk Czymmek, Ph.D., Director
My lab is interested in using contemporary molecular cytology, preparation and imaging technologies to understand aspects of plant-microbe interactions and fungal cell biology, with special emphasis on fungal-plant pathogenic interactions and the mechanisms of fungal hyphal tip growth. Our model systems include the rice pathogen Magnaporthe oryzae, which is the causal agent of rice blast disease and is of worldwide economic importance, and Fusarium sp., including Fusarium oxysporum, which is the causal agent of vascular wilt-disease in over 100 crop species and a cross-kingdom pathogen. My lab utilizes fluorescent protein based probes and biosensors to understand the mechanism of hyphal tip growth and plant-fungal interactions. Using these approaches, we have been able to track fungal pathogenesis from sporulation, tissue invasion and plant death over many days.
Additionally, we are dissecting various Ca2+ signaling pathways in fungi using the genetically encoded calcium indicators Chameleon and GCaMP5. Ca2+ is probably the most versatile secondary messenger and regulates a plethora of cellular and developmental processes in unicellular microbes, animals, and plants. Extracellular stimuli create specific spatial and temporal distribution patterns of cytoplasmic Ca2+, commonly known as the Ca2+ signature, via influxes and effluxes of Ca2+ to and from the extracellular environment and internal Ca2+ stores through the action of ion channels, pumps, and transporters on plasma and organellar membranes. We are working to understand the mechanism underpinning Ca2+ signaling, studying how Ca2+ signatures form in response to different stimuli in fungi. Ultimately, our goal is to combine advanced imaging methodologies along with the latest molecular and genomics tool to provide new insights into microbe interactions with plants and their environment to understand the disease-state and promote plant health.