Garry Sunter, Ph.D.
Professor and Department Chair
Areas of Specialization
- Molecular and Cellular Biology
- Plant Virology
Ph.D. in Plant Pathology; Imperial College, University of London
B.Sc. in Pure and Applied Biology; Chelsea College, University of London
The Sunter laboratory explores aspects of host-pathogen interactions using geminiviruses. Geminiviruses are a significant threat to food security worldwide and current control measures include limiting vector populations using pesticides, which is a significant health concern, as pesticides work by disrupting nervous system function. The lab’s work has potential implications in the development of alternative ways to reduce the incidence of geminivirus disease.
Ongoing studies in the lab focus on 1) Analysis of the epigenetic state of viral chromatin state. Geminiviruses are single-stranded DNA viruses, which replicate through double-stranded DNA intermediates that associate with host histones to form viral mini-chromosomes. Regulation of viral transcription by host systems involved in DNA and histone methylation are of particular interest; 2) Given the small size of the geminivirus genome (~3kbp), the virus has to utilize/highjack host transcription factors to mediate the expression of viral genes. The lab has identified three factors to date and are currently characterizing their interactions with the viral genome; 3) Geminiviruses are subject to numerous host immune responses that act to reduce infection. The lab is studying two of these pathways, Transcriptional Gene RNA silencing (TGS) and autophagy, to understand how they target the virus and the mechanisms geminiviruses utilize to circumvent and/or avoid them; and 4) Network discovery to increase understanding of plant immunity, and to identify key regulatory points that determine infection outcome.
The lab utilizes model plants (Arabidopsis and Tobacco) as well as agriculturally relevant crops (Tomato, Sugar Beet, and Spinach) as genetic models to study host-pathogen interactions, such as transcriptional regulation, transcriptional and post-transcriptional gene silencing (RNAi), and host immunity. The lab uses multidisciplinary approaches that include cell and molecular biology, genomics, bioinformatics, and computational analysis. Skills developed in the lab involve cell culture, DNA/RNA and protein purification, fluorescence and confocal microscopy, RNASeq, gene expression studies, and mutational analysis. Trainees are introduced to the design and conduct of experiments and statistical approaches for data analysis.