More recently, we started investigating Tropical and Subtropical crop improvement and defence, particularly for cassava (Manihot esculenta), a very resilient staple crop feeding over 800 million people worldwide. We have used gene expression analysis to demonstrate that cassava storage roots (SR) are a different root type and not a functional modification of fibrous roots as so far believed. We are investigating the application of identified SR-specific genes for yield increase both as breeding selection markers and biotechnological targets. We are also studying the molecular basis of cassava resistance to African cassava mosaic virus disease (CMD), to identify target genes for improvement of viral resistance in CMD-susceptible cassava lines.
My research programs are aimed at providing molecular understanding of plant response to biotic stresses, in particular to viral infection. We use omics approaches, protein biochemistry, biotechnology and confocal microscopy to identify promising targets for the development of new strategies of crop protection and improvement and for biotechnological applications.We study the function of viral proteins and their interaction with host plant proteins and nucleic acids, particularly those regulating the intercellular transport of viruses and anti-viral gene silencing signals. We have discovered the mechanisms of targeting to plasmodesmata (cell wall-traversing channels, obligate passage for virus movement through the host) of two viral proteins e.g. the Cauliflower mosaic virus movement protein (essential for virus intra and intercellular movement) and the viral silencing suppressor of the Mungbean yellow mosaic virus.