We aim to develop a sophisticated understanding of how microbes compete within a host environment. We approach research from the perspective that applied pathosystems can be leveraged to advance basic knowledge regarding microbial ecology, and that basic ecological principles and processes can be leveraged to improve management of plant diseases. Below are some of the major areas of focus within the lab.
Understanding bacteriocin ecology and evolution
Despite over a century of research, there is a yet-to-be fulfilled promise of effective and sustainable biological control agent (BCA)-based plant disease management. We believe this results in part from lacking an understanding of the connection between BCA environmental fitness and biocontrol efficacy. Bacteriocins, like most antagonistic traits, are naturally evolved to aid the success of one organism at the expense of a competitor. However, these traits cannot be expressed willy-nilly, since they are costly to produce. Thus, if we want to know how to employ a microbe with a desired antagonistic trait, we would first want to know when and where within the host environment that trait provides a fitness benefit to the producer. Moreover, understanding how the dynamics of underlying the broader scale community interactions related to toxin production and sensitivity, from the individual leaf to the regional scale will allow us to better predict how pathogen populations are likely to respond to introduction of a narrow-spectrum toxin, such as a bacteriocin. To close this knowledge gap, we are working with a number of different pathosystems, including mushroom blotch, bacterial speck of tomato, and brown spot and halo blight of common bean. Our approaches include paired strain competition within host environments and targeted sequencing of natural communities.