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Florian Dunker

Florian Dunker

Doctoral student

Project description

The role of small RNAs in plant oomycete interactions

In recent years, small RNAs have emerged as crucial components in the crosstalk between the necrotrophic fungus Botrytis cinerea and its plant hosts (1,2). However, it remains unclear if comparable strategies also evolved in diverse plant pathogens with different life styles and evolutionary origins. Oomycetes comprise dreadful crop pathogens, such as Phythophtora spp. causing late blight diseases on different crops (3). To elucidate the function of oomycete small RNAs during plant infection, I use the obligate biotrophic pathogen Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis. This pathogen comprises a very narrow host range (infecting only the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana) and an absolute dependency on nutrients acquired via haustoria from living plant cells. The Hyaloperonospora reference genome enables a first insight into the RNAi machinery and I have determined a wide variety of small RNAs produced by Hyaloperonospora by small RNAseq analysis. In my current project, I am elucidating the functional roles of Hyaloperonospora small RNAs as suppressors of host immunity by molecular biology methods combined with next generation sequencing and phenotypic analysis of Arabidopsis mutants. Understanding the roles of RNAi and pathogen small RNAs in oomycete-plant interactions promise to provide future approaches to fight plant pathogenic oomycetes displaying massive threats to crop production and natural biodiversity.


Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis strain Noco2 infecting Arabidopsis thaliana Col-0 (7 dpi, scale bar 50 µm).


1. Weiberg A, Wang M, Lin F-M, Zhao H, Zhang Z, Kaloshian I, et al. Fungal small RNAs suppress plant immunity by hijacking host RNA interference pathways. Science. 2013 Oct 4;342(6154):118–23.

2. Wang M, Weiberg A, Lin F-M, Thomma BPHJ, Huang H-D, Jin H. Bidirectional cross-kingdom RNAi and fungal uptake of external RNAs confer plant protection. Nat Plants. 2016 Sep 19;2(10):16151.

3. Kamoun S, Furzer O, Jones JDG, Judelson HS, Ali GS, Dalio RJD, et al. The Top 10 oomycete pathogens in molecular plant pathology. Mol Plant Pathol. 2015 May;16(4):413–34.



2010-2013    Bachelor studies in biology at the Julius-Maximilians University of Würzburg.Bachelor thesis in molecular plant physiology.

2013-2015    Master studies in biology at the Julius-Maximilians University of Würzburg with focus on molecular plant physiology, high-end light microscopy and biophysics.  Master thesis on the salt and drought stress reaction of Arabidopsis and date palm (Group of Dr. Peter Ache at the chair of molecular plant physiology and biophysics of Prof. Rainer Hedrich).

2012-2014   Scholarship by the German ministry of education and research (Deutschlandstipendium) 2015 Start of doctoral project at the faculty of biology of the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich in the AG Weiberg (Genetics Department)


Conferences and workshops:

03.-07. 04. 2017   Plant pathogenomics training school on bioinformatics, python programming and population genetics in Norwich, UK (Travel & attendance scholarship by COST Action SUSTAIN FA1208).

26.-28.05. 2017    Invited speaker at the 12th Microsymposium on small RNAs in Vienna, Austria.

11.-13.10. 2017    Poster presentation at the SFB924 conference “Plant Biology of the Next Generation” in Freising, Germany.