The Staskawicz lab is exploring important crop diseases, such as the devastating bacterial blight of cassava. Cassava is ranked amongst the top ten staple crops in global production, and its starchy tuberous root feeds more than half a billion people in the developing world. Plant infection with the bacterial pathogen Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. manihotis that causes cassava bacterial blight can wipe out entire crops. The bacteria use a set of proteins called transcription activator-like effectors (TALEs) to reprogram the plant’s genes in order to facilitate their own proliferation. Dr. Staskawicz’s lab recently identified two genes in cassava that are targeted by these bacterial TALEs. Using a sophisticated array of cell and molecular biology, plant genetics and computational biology, my project is to search for additional plant “susceptibility genes”, identify the plant gene sequences to which the TALE proteins bind, and modify these susceptibility genes to generate cassava plants with durable disease resistance to blight. This work will reveal how bacteria trigger plant disease and could create novel strategies for producing a variety of disease-resistant crops.