NCCC307: Biochemistry and Genetics of Plant-Fungal Interactions

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCCC307: Biochemistry and Genetics of Plant-Fungal Interactions

Duration: 10/01/2018 to 09/30/2023

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Fungi are the dominant causal agents of plant disease in both agriculture and natural ecosystems. Their negative effects on agriculture production are measured in the billions of dollars annually and the loss of land productivity and ecosystem health exacerbate these losses. The management of fungal disease relies primarily on the breeding of host resistance, the application of fungicides, and the use of cultural practices such as crop rotation. These control strategies all play a role in the management of crop diseases and the mitigation of losses; yet, control failures and widespread plant disease epidemics remain a reality in crop production and natural ecosystems. A key challenge to the development of new innovative control measures that are economically sound and environmentally sustainable is to advance our biological understanding of fungal pathogens and their host-pathogen interactions. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of knowledge concerning the biochemical and genetic basis of fungal pathogenicity, which has hindered fundamental advances in disease control strategies. 

A better understanding of plant-fungal interactions and the response of plants to pathogens is critical to the development of effective and long term control measures. The complexity of these interactions begins with the knowledge that phytopathogenic fungi express several different pathogenic lifestyles including biotrophy, hemibiotrophy, and necrotrophy, and may show tissue specificity or microhabitat preferences. Within each of these lifestyles, pathogenesis may be correlated to toxins, extracellular enzymes, effector modulators of plant defense, specific developmental programs, or detoxification activities. In addition, the level of complexity surrounding pathogenesis studies is exacerbated by the fact that there are numerous species of plant pathogenic fungi of agricultural importance. Superimposed on this complexity are the effects of changing climate conditions and the introduction of non-native pathogens into naïve host populations. Current modeling projects an increase in pathogen epidemics and mycotoxin levels in the future. In order to realistically make advances in understanding pathogenesis and hence, provide insightful information for the development of management tools, the multi-disciplinary complexities involved in host-pathogen interactions must be simultaneous studied with several fungal genera. If granted a renewal, the NCCC-207 committee will conduct meetings in which individuals from diverse disciplines, working with diverse fungal systems will interact, exchange knowledge, and thus better understand host-fungal interactions and identify the outstanding questions of fundamental value to mitigating losses from fungal pathogens. 

This multistate group was initiated in 1991 (first meeting - January 1992) as NCR-173, and renewed in 1994, 1998, 2003 (as NCCC-173) and 2008 (as NCCC-207). This group began by focusing on the genetics and biochemistry of host-fungal interactions in the genus Colletotrichum. Colletotrichum was chosen because it is a model fungal system for the study of phytopathogenesis. Collectively, Colletotrichum species are easy to maintain and manipulate in culture, numerous research laboratories worldwide study this genus, and plant bio-assays, biochemical, molecular, and genetic protocols have been optimized in several of these species. By focusing our efforts on a single genus, an enormous amount of information was quickly obtained from the various labs. The exchange of ideas and results in subsequent meetings allowed us to begin building the foundation for understanding the basis of plant-fungal interactions. Through collaborative interactions made possible by this NCCC committee, understanding the genetic and molecular basis of pathogenicity in the fungal genus Colletotrichum has been advanced significantly. Major areas of research continue to focus on intercellular communication between fungal and plant cells, classical genetic analysis of quantitative traits, molecular systematics of this genus, chromosome evolution, molecular transformation and reporter gene tool development, functional gene analysis, and genetic aspects of host-pathogen compatibility. In addition, over the last several years a number of laboratories have made significant advances in these areas both collectively and individually leading to the recent publication of a comparative genomics analysis of two model Colletotrichum spp. (Nature Genetics, 2012, 44:10601065). These developments have occurred, in part, as a result of concerted interactions among the participants of NCCC-207. The emphasis on Colletotrichum pathogens was expanded to other fungal genera in the early 2000s. Members of the group have active research programs on several different pathogenic fungal genera including Alternaria, Fusarium, Magnaporthe, Sclerotinia, Aspergillus, Cochliobolus, Pyrenophera, Monilinia, and Ustilago. As a result of this increasing scientific diversity in our membership, we have increased the level and caliber of scientific exchange. The group has increasingly challenged itself with understanding fundamental concepts and the underlying processes governing compatibility in fungal-plant interactions. We have met annually, and these sessions have fostered scientific information exchange and coordination of research efforts and management strategies concerning fungal diseases. Examples of collaborative projects (funded and unfunded) and publications involving members of the group are included here:

Representative Publications

Reynolds, H. T., Slot, J. C., Divon, H. H., Lysøe, E., Proctor, R. H., & Brown, D. W. (2017). Differential retention of gene functions in a secondary metabolite cluster. Molecular biology and evolution, 34(8), 2002-2015.

Hammond, T.M., M.D. Andrewski, M.J. Roossinck, and N.P. Keller. 2008.  Aspergillus mycoviruses are targets and suppressors of silencing.  Eukaryotic Cell 7:350-357.

Rodriguez, R.J., and M.J. Roossinck. 2012. Viruses, fungi and plants:  Cross-Kingdom Communication and Mutualism. In Biocommunication of Fungi, pp. 219-227

O’Connell, R.J., Thon, M.R., Hacquard, S., Amyotte, S.G., Kleemann, J., Torres, M.F., Damm, U., Buiate, E.A., Epstein, L., Alkan, N., Altmüller, J., Alvarado-Balderrama, L., Bauser, C.A., Becker, C., Birren, B.W., Chen, Z., Choi, J., Crouch, J.A., Duvick, J.P., Farman, M.A., Gan, P., Heiman, D., Henrissat, B., Howard, R.J., Kabbage, M., Koch, C., Kracher, B., Kubo, Y., Law, A.D., Lebrun, M.-H., Lee, Y.-H., Miyara, I., Moore, N., Neumann, U., Nordström, K., Panaccione, D.G., Panstruga, R., Place, M., Proctor, R.H., Prusky, D., Rech, G., Reinhardt, R., Rollins, J.A., Rounsley, S., Schardl, C.L., Schwartz, D.C., Shenoy, N., Shirasu, K., Sikhakolli, U.R., Stüber, K., Sukno, S.A., Sweigard, J.A., Takano, Y., Takahara, H., Trail, F., Does, H.C. van der, Voll, L.M., Will, I., Young, S., Zeng, Q., Zhang, J., Zhou, S., Dickman, M.B., Schulze-Lefert, P., Themaat, E.V.L. van, Ma, L.-J., Vaillancourt, L.J., 2012. Lifestyle transitions in plant pathogenic Colletotrichum fungi deciphered by genome and transcriptome analyses. Nature Genetics 44, 1060–1065.

Ameen, G., Kariyawasam, G., Shi, G., Friesen, T.L., Faris, J.D., Ali, S., Rasmussen, J. B., and Liu, Z. 2017. Molecular manipulation of the mating-type system and development of a new approach for characterizing pathogen virulence in Pyrenophora tritici-repentis. Fungal Genet. Biol. 109:16-25

Richards J.K., Wyatt, N.A., Liu, Z, Faris, J.D. and Friesen, T.L. 2018. Reference quality genome assemblies of three Parastagonospora nodorum isolates differing in virulence on wheat Submitted 8/11/17 to G3-Genes Genom. Genet. Submitted 8:393-399.

Representative Grants

The Role of Mating-type Genes in Pathogenicity of Fusarium graminearum to Wheat.  PI L. Vaillancourt, CoPI Frances Trail. US Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative. $96,632 over 24 months. Submitted in September, 2017.

Exploiting viruses for gene therapy in invasive aspergillosis. M. Roossinck and N. Keller. R21 grant proposal to NIH 2009   (not funded)

Cloning and validation of new Parastagonospora nodorum necrotrophic effectors and further characterization of SnTox1 and the SnTox1-Snn1 interaction, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2016-67013-24813 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.” 2016-2019, $472,400 PD – Tim Friesen USDA, CoPI - Zhaohui Liu North Dakota State University

 A Novel Strategy to Treat Invasive Aspergillosis, a Rare Human Disease, M. Roossinck and N. Keller grant proposal to Gates Foundation 2009  (not funded).

Pant Heat Tolerance Through Cross Kingdom Interaction. M. Roossinck, R. Rodriguez and R. Redman. NSF, 2009  $1.3 million, funded.

Despite the emphasis on host-pathogen interactions, the NCCC-207 group has continually stressed interdisciplinary activities that are clearly reflected in the makeup of our participants. Membership in NCCC-207 includes classical geneticists, population biologists, evolutionary biologists, molecular biologists, physiologists, mycotoxicologists, plant molecular biologists, field epidemiologists, and pest management research and extension scientists. Thus, this is an exceptional collaborative interaction between a blend of basic and applied scientists representing land grant universities, private industry and government. We also have guest attendees from throughout the region, the country, and internationally. The interdisciplinary nature of the NCCC-207 members has allowed several laboratories to make greater advances than if the group were restricted to specific labs or systems. Over time we have found that the inclusion of scientists studying host-parasite interactions in other fungal systems is of tremendous value. Collectively, these fungi express several different pathogenic lifestyles (biotrophy, hemibiotrophy, and necrotrophy) and show tissue specificity or microhabitat preferences. In addition, classical genetic analysis, biochemical, molecular, and applied field studies addressing plant-fungal interactions are presently being addressed in these systems. By widening our scope from a single model system to encompass several model systems, the information shared allows us to compile and analyze a great deal of information regarding the universal similarities and unique differences involved in pathogenesis. In so doing, NCCC-207 has broadened its scope and generated new synergisms. In this renewal, we propose to maintain the scientific diversity of the committee and bring focused attention to identifying the most significant outstanding questions concerning fungal-host interactions, identifying approaches to answering these questions, and communicating these ideas to USDA national program leaders and funding directors.


  1. Bring together scientists that study the genetics and biochemistry of fungal-plant interactions in several different economically important fungal genera having different trophic interactions with plants. These genera include Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cochliobolus, Colletotrichum, Fusarium, Magnaporthe, Monilinia, Pyrenophora, Sclerotinia and Ustilago.
  2. Identify common and unique genetic and/or biochemical mechanisms required for infection and plant colonization by the economically important fungal genera named in Objective 1.
  3. As a logical extension of Objective 2, identify common and unique genetic and/or biochemical components of plant hosts that facilitate or deter diverse fungal-plant associations of the economically important fungal genera named in Objective 1.
  4. Integrate research findings concerning the biology and genomics of plant-fungal interactions with new information about resistance mechanisms in host plants (integrate Objectives 2 and 3), thereby providing field pathologists and agronomists with improved management strategies against plant pathogens.
  5. Explore new and collaborative funding possibilities to enhance activities.

Procedures and Activities

Researchers studying the genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry host-fungal interactions are brought together annually to meet to share research and discuss coordinated research among participants. These meetings facilitate new research and funding collaborations, the standardization of research protocols, and the advancement of fundamental ideas concerning fungal-plant interactions. Members of the committee routinely publish in peer-reviewed journals including several joint, collaborative publications.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • 1. Exchange of ideas/information/data/resources Comments: This committee seeks to provide and encourage an open, critical, and accessible platform for the discussion of the Biochemistry and Genetics of Plant-Fungal Interactions via an annual meeting. This meeting will enhance productivity and save time and money by sharing the most recent resources and ideas. The makeup of the committee and the atmosphere created at the meetings is meant to encourage discussion of unpublished results in the context of the latest data and concepts of fungal-plant interactions. As such, the meeting must maintain and foster a noncompetitive, mutually beneficial and collaborative environment. This has in the past stimulated participants to refine hypotheses and pursue novel research approaches to address outstanding and long-term problems associated with fungal diseases of plants. The impact of this research has been a clearer understanding of basic factors and mechanisms underlying host-pathogen interactions which directly impacts the strategies breeders, chemical companies and other researchers use to select, screen and manage diseases.
  • 2. Coordination of specific laboratory and field research Comments: Streamline experimental designs to address hypothesis driven questions applicable to all systems. Enhance data collection, analysis, and interpretation utilizing a multi-disciplinary approach. Coordination of studies and communication through collaboration has resulted in rapid accumulation and sharing of information to better understand processes involved in plant-fungal interactions. This coordination will continue to positively impact the rate of discovery in fundamental and field-based research on fungal-plant interactions.
  • 3. Publication of both individual and joint research/review articles Comments: Enhance the available information base allowing for the better understanding of plant-fungal interactions. This information has been and will continue to be utilized to provide guidance for the development of management tools to enhance economic productivity and promote environmental stewardship.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan


There will be two officers for this committee. A secretary will be elected every three years at the appropriate annual meeting. The secretary records and distributes minutes of the annual meeting, and then becomes chair of the committee for the following two years. The chair directs the activities of the committee, serves as the liaison between the committee and the administrative advisor, and makes arrangements for the next annual meeting. In addition, a local host will be selected each year who will be responsible for choosing the location for the next meeting and coordinating local arrangements with the chair.

Literature Cited


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Ohio State University, Oregon State University, USDA-ARS Red River Agricultural Research Center, USDA-ARS/Georgia, USDA-ARS/Illinois
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