Research Overview

Research in the Vaillancourt laboratory is focused on understanding molecular mechanisms of fungal pathogenicity to plants, with the ultimate goal of developing improved methods for management of important fungal diseases. We use a combination of cytology, genetics, and genomics to address our research questions. We have two main projects:

  1. The comparative analysis of Colletotrichum anthracnose diseases of various monocot and dicot hosts. Colletotrichum is one of the most common and important genera of plant pathogenic fungi, affecting nearly every species of plant grown for food or fiber worldwide. Colletotrichum fungi share certain aspects of their pathogenic behavior, including in many cases a hembiotrophic mode of infection that involves a developmental and genetic switch from biotrophic or endophytic colonization of living host cells, to utilization of dead tissues accompanied by the production of severe blight and rot symptoms. The comparative Colletotrichum project includes components related to population genetics, developmental biology, and comparative genomics, and involves collaborators at the University of Kentucky as well as in Europe and South America.
  2. Understanding the etiology of corn stalk rot disease. Corn stalk rot has been estimated to cause losses of between 5 and 10 percent of potential yield annually. Corn stalk rot is difficult to control because it is caused by several different fungi, and because the disease outcome is strongly influenced by the environment and by host physiology. Currently, very little is known about corn stalk rot, and the Vaillancourt laboratory is one of the few labs in the world working on this disease syndrome. Our goal is to undertake a comparative analysis of the three major fungal causal agents of stalk rot, Colletotrichum graminicolaStenocarpella maydis, and Gibberella zeae, to uncover common themes of their development and pathogenicity to corn stalks, and of the corn response to these pathogens under various physiological and environmental conditions. This may facilitate development of management tools that would be more generally effective against stalk rots. Some of our work on this project has been done in collaboration with industry partners.