Recognizing Plant Physiology first authors: Josiah Musembi Mutuku

Josiah Musembi Mutuku, first author of The structural integrity of lignin is crucial for resistance against Striga hermonthica parasitism in rice

Current Position: Plant Molecular Biologist

Education: Ph.D. Agricultural Sciences, Kagoshima University, Japan

Non-scientific Interests: Playing tennis, camping, learning new cultures and travelling

Brief bio: I have a long-term interest in understanding the molecular mechanisms of plant-pathogen interactions. As a PhD student under the supervision of Professor Akihiro Nose at Saga University Japan, I studied the interaction between rice (Oryza sativa) and Rhizoctonia solani a fungal pathogen that causes rice sheath blight disease. We reported the genes and pathways that were associated with resistance to this fungal pathogen in rice. After my PhD, I joined the Ken Shirasu lab at the Riken Institute in Yokohama, Japan and started to work on the interaction between rice and Striga hermonthica, a parasitic plant of high economic importance to agriculture, especially in Sub Saharan Africa. Our work revealed that the transcription factor WRKY45 modulates a cross talk in resistance against Striga hermonthica by positively regulating both salicylic acid and jasmonic acid pathways. Currently, I am working at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub in Nairobi Kenya. In addition to Striga spp. work, I am working on the interaction between plants-vectors-pathogens in collaboration with the John Carr group at the University of Cambridge, UK. The current work is a follow up on our previous work and the results demonstrate that enhanced lignin deposition and maintenance of the structural integrity of lignin polymers deposited at the infection site are crucial for post-attachment resistance against Striga hermonthica.