Unravelling Nox complexes in ‘noble rot’ fungus

We talk to Robert Marschall, winner of one of three Fungal Biology and Biotechnology student prizes, about his work on understanding the Nox complexes in Botrytis cinerea. This fungus causes grey rot or, if it infects grapes, it is known as 'noble rot'.

Hi Robert, congratulations on winning the Fungal Biology and Biotechnology student prize. Could you briefly describe your research on the BcIqg1 signalling hub? What is the significance to understanding how plant pathogens function?

Thank you again for considering my work for the student prize. During my PhD, I worked on unravelling NADPH oxidase (Nox) complexes and their embedding in existing signalling cascades with a special focus on the link between calcium signalling and reactive oxygen species (ROS). Our model organism is the necrotrophic plant pathogen Botrytis cinerea. The story of BcIqg1, a homolog of the mammalian scaffold protein IQGAP, basically had its origins in our work on mammalian literature about Nox complexes. Despite of the evolutionary distance between mammals and fungi, we try to transfer the knowledge about mammalian Nox complexes onto B. cinerea. In mammals, the protein links several major signalling processes and is associated to the Nox complex. In B. cinerea, we identified BcIqg1 as putative new member of a Nox complex (see figure) and confirmed that BcIqg1 is a central protein interacting with members of calcium and MAPK signalling pathways.

robert figure

Phenotypically, deletion mutants of bciqg1 have an altered stress resistance and are impaired in virulence, the formation of perennial structures, hyphal fusions and infection cushions. Due to the pleiotropic phenotype and the variety of interaction partners, the investigation of the protein may contribute to the understanding of regulatory networks in the plant pathogen B. cinerea and its modulation of vegetative and pathogenic differentiation processes.

What brought you to work with fungi?

Honestly, during the work for my bachelor thesis I could not imagine that I´ll ever work with plants and fungi. I was addicted to bacteria. However, by two courses and one research module in the group of my current supervisor, Prof. Paul Tudzynski, I was convinced to work in my master thesis on Botrytis cinerea. The basic research on the molecular level combined with applied research on one of the most important fungal pathogen have awakened my interest. And today I know that this was the best choice for me and for my academic career.

Would you recommend students to join international conferences, if possible?

Definitely, YES! During my PhD, I had the opportunity to take part in several conferences, such as the MPMI on Rhodes, the FGC in Asilomar and of course the ECFG in Paris. Although it’s difficult to be intent all the time, the presentations, poster sessions, social meetings and “after work get-togethers” give rise to new ideas, new people and new cooperation opportunities.

Where would you like to see your research taking you in the next few years?

My first aim will be the finalization of my PhD in the middle of this year. Afterwards I´ll hopefully have the opportunity in the Tudzynski´s lab to continue my work on Botrytis and on Nox complexes, their composition, regulation and the embedding in existing signalling cascades. Especially the link of ROS and calcium will take over a special position in my research.

In the future, I´m open for new challenges. I´d like to continue the work on fungi, in the best case with related topics to my current work. I think that there are so many things, which are still uncovered and needs to be elucidated. I´d like to contribute to the understanding of regulatory networks in fungi and I´d like to help to understand fungal pathogens for a better disease control and the development of defence strategies.

So, if there is someone, who has the same goals, has a challenge for me or just wants to discuss our research – feel free to write me (robert.marschall@uni-muenster.de).

What advice would you give young scientist starting out in research?

It’s hard to give advice to young scientists. I just turned 27 and I think that I´ll have to learn so much more…However, what I can definitely do, is to encourage young people to start their career in the life science area. It was the best choice of my life to study biology!

To come to this point where you love going to work and where you are burning to continue your research, it is necessary to carefully plan your career. By this I do not only refer to choosing the right courses and seminars….I recommend to choose the right people around you, supporting you during your work, celebrating results but also assisting you when nothing works in the lab.

Thankfully, I made the right decisions 😉

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