María Florencia Ercoli, Ph.D.


María Florencia Ercoli, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral fellow
Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center
University of California, Davis
1 Shields Ave.
City, State, ZIP
Davis, CA 95616
Research field
Molecular biology
Award year
Country of origin
Mentor name
Pamela C. Ronald, Ph.D.

In the Ronald lab, I will uncover the molecular strategies that infectious bacteria use to invade plant hosts. Plants, like animals, are susceptible to bacterial infection. Because these organisms have battled one another for millions of years, each has developed measures—and countermeasures—in an attempt to guarantee their own survival. Recently, the Ronald lab discovered that some strains of a bacterium called Xanthomonas deploy a molecule that mimics a plant hormone produced by rice; rice plants, in turn, have responded by triggering an immune response that is tailored to specifically recognize this molecule. Strains of bacteria that lack the mimic are able to avoid detection; however, they are less efficient when it comes to infecting plants, suggesting that bacterial molecule plays some role in this process. Now, using a suite of tools in developmental and cell biology, microbial genetics, and microscopy, I will identify the plant genes activated in response to the hormone mimic and assess how these genes render rice plants more susceptible to infection—for example, by widening the veins through which bacteria spread. Our work will facilitate the development of new strategies for controlling plant infections, particularly those that plague vital food crops.

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