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Plant-Microbe Biology Program

Advances with model systems and new research tools have revealed that many of the phenomena we explore -- from pathogen attack mechanisms to host innate immune responses -- are part of a broad web of inter-organismal interactions that impact both plant and human health. Students in the Plant-Microbe Biology program have educational backgrounds in Molecular Biology, Plant Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, and Microbiology. They typically conduct research on pathogenic, symbiotic, and epiphytic processes that enable microbial associations with plants and the mechanisms in plants that lead to defense, susceptibility, or cooperation.

Students in the Plant-Microbe Biology program master a fundamental understanding of the biology of the interactions between plants and microbes, particularly with respect to pathogenesis and symbiosis. They are expected to be interdisciplinary and able to bridge basic and translational research.

The core concepts that students in the Plant-Microbe Biology program are expected to understand upon graduation include:

  • Pathogenic lifestyles: necrotrophs versus biotrophs
  • Primary pathogenic mechanisms of necrotrophs
  • Primary pathogenic mechanism of biotrophs
  • The first level of induced plant defense: PAMP-triggered immunity, which is similar to animal innate immunity
  • The second level of plant defense: effector-triggered immunity, which is the basis for R-gene-mediated resistance, coevolutionary, multifactorial molecular warfare, and boom and bust cycles of crop protection
  • Systemic acquired resistance, induced systemic resistance, priming, and related plant defenses
  • The major classes of antimicrobial compounds produced by plants
  • Differences and antagonisms between plant defenses against necrotrophs and biotrophs
  • Pathogenic mechanisms of:
    1. Agrobacterium tumefaciens (T-DNA and nature's genetic engineer)
    2. viruses (cellular parasitism and the overriding importance of  RNAi)
    3. nematodes (effector-mediated pathogenesis targeting plant development)
  • Development of better ways to durably protect crops

This suite of knowledge, skills, and abilities are developed from core and elective courses, research projects, and outreach opportunities. In addition to the course requirements of all PPPMB students, PhD students majoring in the Plant-Microbe Biology program are expected to complete PLPPM 4020, two special topics courses, and at least one minor in a graduate field in the core life sciences or physical sciences. The course requirements for a minor in the Plant-Microbe Biology program are determined by the Special Committee, but include at least the equivalent of PLPPM 3010 and PLPPM 4010. For students majoring in Plant Pathology or Fungal and Oomycete Biology with a minor in Plant-Microbe Biology, the Special Committee may recommend an additional life sciences course or research experience in a Plant-Microbe Biology or life sciences laboratory.

In addition to the course requirements of all PPPMB students, the MS major in the Plant-Microbe Biology program, is required to complete a minimum of one additional special topics course.  MS minor requirements in the Plant-Microbe Biology program are determined by the Special Committee. In addition to the courses listed above, the Special Committee may suggest other courses that are appropriate for the student's interests and research project.