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Department of Phytopathology

Professorship of Phytopathology, Prof. Dr. Patrick Schäfer

How can we protect crops against diseases?

The surface of plant leaves and especially roots is a nutrient-rich environment and therefore the natural habitat of millions of bacteria, fungi, oomycetes and other types of microorganisms. Like animals, plants possess a highly effective immune system that prevents most of these microorganisms, including potential pathogens, from entering even more nutritious plant tissues. Plant pathogens are, however, constantly evolving new strategies to break the plant’s immune system and cause plant diseases resulting in major crop losses. The trade and traffic of crops combined with changing climates accelerate the evolution and spreading of new crop diseases worldwide. In addition to continuously evolving new resistance strategies themselves, plants receive protection against pathogens and other environmental stresses based on symbioses with beneficial microorganisms at the plant root. Such beneficial symbioses exist since millions of years and once enabled plants to colonise land.

Research at the Department of Phytopathology:

To foster food security, new plant protection strategies are needed, which is also in line with EU policies on the replacement of chemical disease control by 2030 to enhance eco-/sustainability in crop production and to improve food and feed safety. At the Department of Phytopathology, we explore the organisation of immunity in plant roots and plant symbioses to identify new genetic protection traits against pathogens. In addition, we examine non-coding RNAs as a currently untapped resource for the development of environmentally friendly, non-chemical crop-protecting biologicals.

Research projects:

Beneficial effectors - symbiont-guided plant protection
– Patrick Schäfer

Regulatory organisation of root immunity at cell type resolution
– Ruth Schäfer

Functional root ecology –plant fitness and resistance priming
– Jennifer Thielmann

Non-coding RNAs for crop protection
– Karl-Heinz Kogel, Patrick Schäfer

Networking, transfer and evaluation measure on the promotion of innovations in non-chemical plant protection methods in horticulture 
- Matteo Galli