The Oomycete team studies Phytophthora plant pathogens. Oomycetes appear similar to fungi, but are biologically so distinct that they require their own research approach.

Oomycetes may look very similar to fungi, but they stand far away in the tree of life, close to brown algae, diatoms, and malaria parasites. As a result, one cannot simply transfer knowledge from fungal plant pathogens to oomycetes. 

Oomycete plant pathogens

Among oomycete plant pathogens, species from the genus Phytophthora (literally, “plant killer”) pose an immense threat to food security and natural ecosystems. One example illustrates how damaging these plant pathogens can be: potato late blight (de aardappelziekte). This disease caused by Phytophthora infestans triggers lesions in leaves, petioles and stems. Infected tubers develop rot and become prone to additional infections by other tuber rot organisms. Overall, the world potato industry reports more than 6-billion-euro losses a year due to late blight, not to mention the dreadful traces that this disease left in history. In 1845, P. infestans triggered famine in Europe, causing one million deaths and massive emigration. 

Potato is not the only crop affected by oomycete diseases. Did you know that many of your favourite exotic treats, like chocolate, mangoes, coconut and papaya are also threatened by an oomycete? Named Phytophthora palmivora, it infects more than a hundred plant species in the tropics. This broad eater is expanding from the tropics toward temperate zones and has already been reported in Greece and Italy. 

Research aims

At the Phytopathology laboratory, we aim to pave the way for long-lasting strategies to combat oomycete diseases. In collaboration with Tijs Ketelaar (Cell Biology) and Joris Sprakel (Biochemistry), we decipher molecular, cellular, and biomechanical aspects of oomycete infection. We study various aspects of oomycete infection biology, including sensing, growth, and polarised secretion, using cutting-edge technologies ranging from molecular sensors to artificial intelligence.

Read more about our research