For a long time, our research group has been dealing with the infection biology of one of the most significant phytopathogenic fungus worldwide, the filamentously growing ascomycete Fusarium graminearum. This fungus infests mainly different kinds of cereals, e.g. wheat, sorghum, barley and maize. The worldwide infestation with fusarium causes billions in economic damages. The specific danger emanating from fusarium infection of cereals is the production of mycotoxins, especially the trichothecene deoxynivalenol (DON). This mycotoxin inhibits the protein biosynthesis in all highly developed animals and plants. The nutritional and agricultural organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that up to 25% of cereals chosen for consumption are contaminated with mycotoxins. Warm and humid climates are ideal for epidemic spread of fusarium. Increasing temperatures and rainfall as results of climatic change have the potential to increase such epidemics.
The infection of flowering wheat ears is caused by fungal spores (conidia). As soon as conidia have settled on the blossom, they germinate and form a web of tubular cells (runner hyphae). In order to penetrate robust plant surface, the hyphae form different structures, so-called infection cushions. The formation of infection cushions is a prerequisite for a successful infection of wheat. We could demonstrate that mutants, which did not form infection cushions, were not able to cause fusarium head blight.
Our main research concentrates on the characterization of early infection stages. Here, we make use of the latest molecular, biochemical-analytical and microscopic techniques.
A further research branch deals with the identification and characterization of enzymes for biotechnology and the search for inhibitors of plant pathogens (NEMBO).