Our research investigates species interactions (microbe-microbe, microbe-plant, microbe-insect) that impact the sustainability and productivity of cropping systems. Some of our current study systems include:

Fusarium head blight of small grains

Most of our research projects connect to fusarium head blight, an economically damaging plant disease that is associated with accumulation of hazardous mycotoxins in grain. We are particularly interested in achieving an ecological understanding of the fusarium head blight pathogen and its interactions with cereal crops and with other microbes.

Fusarium head blight on barley

Microbiology of malting

Malting is a process of controlled germination that is used to stimulate the production of enzymes that convert starch into fermentable sugars. There is also a lot of microbial activity that takes place during malting. We study various aspects of the microbiology of the malting environment, particularly with connections to the activity of Fusarium spp., which have been linked to some malt quality defects.

Germinating barley, with Fusarium growth evident as red colouration

Microbial detoxification of mycotoxins

The amazing metabolic abilities of the microbial world are still largely unknown. We are doing our small part to uncover this vast potential by prospecting for microbes and enzymes that are able to chemically transform mycotoxins such as deoxynivalenol.

Chemical structure of deoxynivalenol

Influence of soil microbes on root traits

We are exploring interactions between soil bacteria and the roots of crop plants, aiming to understand how microbes that associate with roots influence root traits relevant to nutrient uptake. This is a collaborative project with Dr. Olivia Wilkins, Dr. George diCenzo and others.

A young seedling with roots shown

Soil microbiology and disease suppressive soils

Soils harbour astonishing microbial diversity, and those microbes perform vital functions that support productivity. We are isolating and genome-sequencing a collection of soil bacteria. One of the functions we’re most interested in is the control of plant pathogens by other members of the soil microbiome.

Newdale, Manitoba’s provincial soil; photo via University of Manitoba

Diseases of intermediate wheatgrass

We study two diseases of intermediate wheatgrass, fusarium head blight and ergot, in collaboration with Dr. Doug Cattani and Dr. Kathryn Turner.

Fungal hyphae growing on the rachis of intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium)

We gratefully acknowledge financial support from: