Rosie Latham

2022 PhD Studentship
The evolution of crop pathogens
How are our changing environments driving fungal pathogen evolution?
Milner Centre for Evolution, University of Bath

We are witnessing a rise in fungal disease outbreaks and the evolution of more aggressive fungal pathogens. This threatens global food security and human health, and we only have a few fungicide classes with dwindling efficacy.

My research answers important questions on how, when and why changing environments could impact the evolution of mycotoxigenic fungi (fungi that produce toxic substances), disease and fungicide resistance.

I hope to contribute to discovering better ways to protect crops against fungal pathogens and successfully mitigate the negative economic and health impacts of crop disease outbreaks.

Wheat infected with Fusarium Head Blight (FHB). FHB is caused by several species from the fungal genus Fusarium. Fusarium graminearum is the species that causes the most serious damage to crops. Photo: Dr. Neil Brown, Milner Centre for Evolution, University of Bath.
Increasing threat of crop contamination

Changing environments and climates threaten to exacerbate the intensity and extent of mycotoxin contaminations.

Two prominent genera of mycotoxigenic fungi, Aspergillus and Fusarium, are responsible for the contamination of our major crops. Consumption of mycotoxins has been associated with cancers, neurological issues, and immune suppression.

The key is in the evolution of pathogens

Effective crop disease management and fungicide stewardship requires an understanding of the current and changing scale of the disease and the potential for fungicide resistance.

As part of my research, within laboratory settings I assess how changing environmental conditions could be linked to shifts in the pathogen’s ability to tolerate fungicides and cause disease. Genomic analysis of the resulting pathogens of interest reveal how they have evolved new traits.

Knowing more about the environmental conditions that could create pathogens which threaten food security and health can help us improve the monitoring of future outbreaks and implement further controls and mitigations that inhibit the development of mycotoxins.

Better ways to protect crops

I have always been in awe of the variety of life, mainly due to popular nature documentaries. However, it wasn’t until I was an undergraduate student that I truly appreciated the power of the Theory of Evolution to explain the incredible diversity of living things on Earth.

I hope to use the key skills I learn during my PhD, such as bioinformatics and genomics, to advance my career as a researcher. After my PhD, I aim to continue to contribute new research into the field of plant pathogens to protect our food security and health.

The EET are supporting my ambitions to apply the Theory of Evolution to improve food security practices and contribute to a knowledge gap that needs urgent understanding.

More about Rosie’s work:

Researcher profile