Humboldt Research Award to Prof. Barry Scott

Prof. Barry Scott  of the Massey University’s Institute of Fundamental
Sciences in Palmerston North has just been awarded a prestigious
Humboldt  Research Award. The Humboldt Foundation grants up to only
100  Humboldt Research Awards annually. Prof Scott will take up his
award later in 2014 working with Prof Dr Regine Kahmann, at the Max
Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg. Scott Barry

Prof Scott’s research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of
symbiotic interactions between plants and microbes: in particular the
mutualistic symbiotic interaction between the endophyte Epichloe
festucae and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne). Perennial ryegrass
is the most common grass on New Zealand farms and therefore extremely
important to the dairy, sheep and beef industries. The ryegrass host
provides nutrients for endophyte growth and a means of dissemination
through the seed, whereas the endophyte provides biological protection
to the host. The endophyte colonises the intercellular spaces of the
leaves to form an interconnected hyphal network throughout the aerial
tissues of the grass. Importantly growth of the endophyte is kept in
check by chemical cross talk between the grass host and the fungus.

Using genetic tools, Prof Scott’s group at Massey has identified many
of the key fungal genes required to maintain this symbiotic hyphal
network and shown there is a very fine balance between a beneficial
(mutualistic) and detrimental (pathogenic) interaction. He is now
interested in deciphering how those genes are “wired” within the cell
and what metabolites are exchanged between each partner to maintain a
balanced and beneficial symbiosis. Therefore his focus in Germany,
using the Humboldt Research Award, will be to collaborate with his
host, Dr Regine Kahmann, at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial
Microbiology in Marburg. They will attempt to develop and apply the
tools of proteomics and metabolomics to decipher the fungal-plant
symbiotic code. There will also be involvement in this project from
fellow scientists from Göttingen University, Freiburg University,
Münster University and the Braunschweig University of Technology.