Plant-associated bacteria — and especially the interaction between P. fluorescens SBW25 and plants — was once a major focus of our work. We are currently awaiting completion of a set of walk-in growth chambers that will enable a return to this area with renewed interest. We anticipate initial experiments taking advantage of the bar-coded libraries constructed by Andy Farr to explore ecological and evolutionary dynamics on plant leaf surfaces. If you are interested in pursuing such research — or any other aspect of plant-microbe interacts, particularly involving commensals — then please contact us.
Beyond SBW25, in 2010, Rainey became involved in work on the origins of the kiwifruit canker causing pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidae (Psa). This pathogen struck the New Zealand kiwifruit industry with devastating effect and was one part of a global pandemic caused by a single clone. The work has been catapulted forward through the heroic efforts of Honour McCann (who will soon set up an independent research group at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen), Elena Colombi and Christina Straub.
You can read about its origins here and here, about integrative conjugative elements (ICEs) and the evolution of copper resistance here and about population structure / ecological genomics of Psa and associated P. syringae types, including a new phylogroup, here. And there is more to come on the “ultimate” origins of Psa, the population genomics of the new phylogroup and ICEs hijacked by a particularly pernicious transposon. The latter is described further here.
As to the future, questions concerning origins of plant diseases of domesticated crops are tremendously interesting. We are currently contemplating Xylella — especially given incursions into Europe — and field work in Costa Rica to obtain understanding of population structure in the wild. Maybe too, P. syringae pv. tomato from wild populations in Chile.