Yuelin Zhang

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

Plant immunity
Salicylic acid signaling
Systemic acquired resistance
ROS signaling
MAPK signaling
plant immune receptors

Relevant Degree Programs

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.
I am interested in working with undergraduate students on research projects.

Research Methodology

molecular biology


Master's students
Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
Any time / year round

Systemic acquired resistance, SA signaling, ROS signaling, MAPK signaling, signal transduction pathways downstream of plant immune receptors

I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.
I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).
I am interested in hiring Co-op students for research placements.

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2020)
Characterization and functional analysis of two redundant MAPKKKs in plant immunity (2020)

No abstract available.

Regulation of the pattern-recognition receptor signaling in Arabidopsis: lessons from sobir7-1 and MC2 (2020)

No abstract available.

Functional analyses of three SUPPRESSOR OF mkk1 mkk2 proteins in plant immunity (2019)

Plant immunity relies on two groups of pathogen receptors, plasma membrane-localized pattern-recognition receptors (PRRs) and intracellular nucleotide binding-leucine rich repeat receptors (NLRs). Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascades, which generally consist of MAPK kinase kinase (MAPKKK), MAPK kinase (MAPKK) and MAPK, play critical roles in plant immunity. Disruption of the MEKK1-MKK1/MKK2-MPK4 cascade in Arabidopsis results in an autoimmune phenotype in the mekk1, mkk1 mkk2 and mpk4 mutants. A mkk1 mkk2 suppressor screen led to the identification of the NLR SUMM2 (SUPPRESSOR OF MKK1 MKK2 2), suggesting that the MEKK1-MKK1/MKK2-MPK4 cascade is guarded by SUMM2 and that disruption of this cascade can lead to the activation of SUMM2-mediated immunity. This thesis reports the identification and characterization of three additional SUMM proteins, SUMM3, SUMM5 and SUMM6.SUMM3 encodes CALMODULIN-BINDING RECEPTOR-LIKE CYTOPLASMIC KINASE 3 (CRCK3). crck3 mutants suppress the constitutively activated immune responses in mekk1, mkk1 mkk2 and mpk4 mutants. CRCK3 was found to be a substrate of MPK4 and it interacts with SUMM2 in planta, suggesting that SUMM2 utilizes CRCK3 as a “guardee” or “decoy” to monitor the integrity of the MEKK1-MKK1/MKK2-MPK4 cascade. SUMM5 encodes protein phosphatase 5 (PP5), a highly conserved atypical phosphatase with an N-terminal tetratricopeptide domain. SUMM2 was shown to interact with Heat Shock Protein 90 (Hsp90) and PP5 in planta. Accumulation of SUMM2 is reduced in the pp5 knockout mutant, suggesting that PP5 acts as a co-chaperone to regulate the accumulation of SUMM2. SUMM6 encodes the malectin-like domain containing kinase MEDOS1 (MDS1). Mutations in MDS1 and its close homolog MDS2 have additive effects on suppression of the mkk1 mkk2 mutant phenotypes, suggesting that MDS1 and MDS2 have overlapping roles in promoting SUMM2-mediated immunity. MDS1 and CRCK3 were found to associate in planta, indicating that MDS1/MDS2 might promote SUMM2-mediated immunity by targeting CRCK3. Overall, my thesis work provides new insights on how plants sense pathogens using receptor proteins and how they maintain appropriate levels of these receptor proteins to ensure adequate defense response.

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Plant immunity regulation by transcription factors SARD1 and CBP60g: downstream, upstream and the amplification loop (2019)

Activated plant defense responses consist of PAMP (pathogen associated molecular pattern)-triggered immunity (PTI) and effector-triggered immunity (ETI) at infected sites and a secondary immune response in distal parts of the host plant, termed systemic acquired resistance (SAR). Salicylic acid (SA) plays critical roles in plant immunity and its level increases upon pathogen infection. Pathogen-induced SA biosynthesis predominantly relies on ICS1 (ISOCHORISMATE SYNTHASE 1), whose induction mainly depends on transcription factors SARD1 (SAR DEFICIENT 1) and CBP60g (CALMODULIN BINDING PROTEIN 60 g). Meanwhile, the expression of SARD1 and CBP60g is also highly induced by pathogens. My Ph.D. research focuses on identification of immune regulators that function upstream and downstream of SARD1 and CBP60g. First, we performed chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing experiments to identify candidate targets of SARD1. We found that SARD1 and CBP60g directly control the expression of a large number of key regulators involved in PTI, ETI and SAR. Among them, two genes essential for SAR, ALD1 (AGD2-LIKE DEFENSE RESPONSE PROTEIN 1) and SARD4, are involved in the biosynthesis of pipecolic acid (Pip), a plant secondary metabolite required for SAR. Consistently, the sard1cbp60g double mutant accumulates less Pip than wild type, suggesting that SARD1 and CBP60g regulate Pip biosynthesis in addition to SA. Secondly, we showed that transcription factors TGA1 and TGA4 act upstream of SARD1 and CBP60g and thus regulate the biosynthesis of SA and Pip. Lastly, we revealed a novel mechanism of SA perception by its receptors NPR3 (NPR1-LIKE PROTEIN 3) and NPR4. NPR3/NPR4 interact with transcription factors TGA2, TGA5 and TGA6, and act as transcriptional repressors. SA inhibits the transcriptional repression activities of NPR3/NPR4 and promotes the transcriptional activation activity of NPR1 (NONEXPRESSER OF PR GENES 1); both contribute to SA-induced defense gene expression. We also found that SA induces SARD1 expression, revealing a feedback amplification loop between SA and SARD1, where SARD1 promotes SA biosynthesis via directly activating ICS1 expression and SA induces SARD1 expression by regulating the activities of NPR/TGA complexes. Altogether studies in this dissertation provide new insights on the functions of SARD1 and CBP60g in plant immunity and the mechanism of SA perception and signaling.

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Regulation of MAP kinase cascades in plant immunity (2019)

In eukaryotes, MAP kinase cascades are important players of signal transduction in many biological processes. In plant immunity, two main MAP kinase pathways, MKK4/MKK5-MPK3/MPK6 and MEKK1-MKK1/MKK2-MPK4, are activated upon elicitor treatments. On the other hand, the YDA-MKK4/MKK5-MPK3/MPK6 cascade is involved in the negative regulation of stomatal differentiation. Plants have evolved different mechanisms to regulate the activity of these cascades. For example, brassinosteroid (BR) signaling has been reported to promote the YDA pathway.This study revealed that the mapkkk3 mapkkk5 double mutant showed reduced phosphorylation of MPK3/MPK6 upon treatment with conserved microbial molecules called PAMPs, suggesting that MAPKKK3/MAPKKK5 function upstream of MKK4/MKK5 to form a cascade in plant immunity. The YDA cascade shares the same MAPKK and MAPK as the MKK4/MKK5-MPK3/MPK6 cascade in plant immunity. Interestingly, loss of YDA or blocking BR signaling leads to increased elicitor-induced activation of MPK3/MPK6. On the other hand, development defects caused by silencing of YDA are suppressed in the mapkkk3 mapkkk5 double mutant. These data suggest that there are antagonistic interactions between the two MAP kinase cascades in stomatal development and plant immunity. Disruption of the MEKK1-MKK1/MKK2-MPK4 cascade leads to immune receptor SUMM2-mediated immune responses. MEKK2, a close paralog of MEKK1, was previously shown to act as a positive regulator of SUMM2-mediated immunity. I discovered that this occurred due to the inhibition of the activity of MPK4 by MEKK2 as MEKK2 is able to inhibit the phosphorylation of MPK4 by MKK2 in vitro. Interestingly, activation of SUMM2-mediated defense responses in the mekk1, mkk1 mkk2 and mpk4 mutant plants leads to increased MEKK2 transcript levels, which contributes to positive feedback regulation of SUMM2-mediated immunity. MEKK2 arose from a recent duplication event resulting in the tandem gene repeat consisting of MEKK1, MEKK2 and MEKK3. My data suggest that MEKK2 underwent dramatic functional divergence from other MAPKKKs to gain the function as a negative regulator of MAP kinases, which is an interesting evolutionary event conferring novel biochemical mechanisms of the paralog. Taken together, the studies in my Ph.D. thesis provide new insights into the regulation of the two main MAP kinase cascades activated during plant immunity.

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Genetic analysis of receptor-like protein SNC2-mediated plant resistance in Arabidopsis (2018)

Plant immunity is usually governed by two types of immune receptors: 1) pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) recognize the conserved molecular features of pathogens (pathogen-associated molecular patterns, PAMPs) and trigger PTI (PAMP-triggered immunity) and 2) nucleotide-binding and leucine-rich repeats-containing proteins (NLRs) serve as intracellular immune receptors to recognize the presence of relatively diverse pathogen effectors and trigger ETI (effector-triggered immunity). The Arabidopsis thaliana mutant snc2-1D (suppressor of npr1-1, constitutive 2) contains a gain-of-function mutation in a receptor-like protein (RLP) and displays a dwarf morphology. Here I report the characterization of bda4-1D (bian da 4-1D), which was identified as a complete suppressor of snc2-1D dwarf morphology. Positional cloning showed bda4-1D contains a gain-of-function mutation in Non-Expressor of Pathogenesis-Related Proteins 4 (renamed npr4-4D). Functional analysis indicated NPR4, as well as its close homolog NPR3 (Non-Expressor of Pathogenesis-Related Proteins 3), function as transcriptional repressors. They function downstream of SNC2, independent of NPR1 (Non-Expressor of Pathogenesis-Related Proteins 1). In addition, salicylic acid (SA) was shown to inhibit the transcriptional activities of NPR3/4 and promote the expression of key immune regulators. The npr4-4D mutation leads to constitutive repression of SA-induced immune responses, indicating that the mutant protein can no longer respond to SA. On the other hand, the equivalent mutation in NPR1 also abolishes its ability to bind SA and renders reduced SA-induced defence gene expression. My results demonstrated that both NPR1 and NPR3/NPR4 are bona fide SA receptors, but play opposite roles in transcriptional regulation of SA-induced defence gene expression.In the independent eds5-3 snc2-1D npr1-1 suppressor screen, I report the identification and characterization of four more bda mutants, bda3-1D, bda5-1, bda6 and bda7. Cloning of BDA6 and BDA7 showed that they encode FMO1 and ALD1 respectively, which are involved in biosynthesis of N-Hydroxypipecolic Acid (NHP) and pipecolic acid. My results indicate that enzymes involved in Lysine metabolism are also important for signaling in SNC2-mediated immune pathway.Overall, the studies I completed in my Ph.D. thesis expand our knowledge in understanding of the signaling pathways downstream of SNC2 as well as the general regulatory mechanisms of SA receptors in plant innate immunity.

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Analysis of the evolutionary relationship and geographical patterns of genetically varied populations of diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella (L.) (2017)

The diamondback moth (DBM), Plutella xylostella, is well known for its extensive adaptation and distribution, high level of genetic variation and polymorphism, and strong resistance to a broad range of synthetic insecticides. Although understanding of the P. xylostella biology and ecology has been considerably improved, knowledge on the genetic basis of these traits remains surprisingly limited. Based on data generated by different sets of molecular markers, we uncovered the history of evolutionary origin and regional dispersal, identified the patterns of genetic diversity and variation, characterized the demographic history, and revealed natural and human-aided factors that are potentially responsible for contemporary distribution of P. xylostella. These findings rewrite our understanding of this exceptional system, revealing that South America might be a potential origin of P. xylostella, and recently colonized across most parts of the world resulting possibly from intensified human activities. With the data from selected continents, we demonstrated signatures of localized selection associated with environmental adaptation and insecticide resistance of P. xylostella. This work brings us to a better understanding of the regional movement and genetic bases on rapid adaptation and development of agrochemical resistance, and provides a solid foundation for better monitoring and management of this worldwide herbivore and forecast of regional pest status of P. xylostella, by taking a cost-effective response to insecticide resistance and better implementation of biological control programs.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Arabidopsis MKK6 functions in parallel with MKK1 and MKK2 to negatively regulate plant immunity (2017)

As an early defense response, MAP kinase cascade activation plays important roles in transduction and amplification of signals upon pathogen perception in plants. The Arabidopsis MEKK1-MKK1/MKK2-MPK4 kinase cascade was previously shown to negatively regulate plant immunity. In this study, two suppressors of the mkk1 mkk2 double mutant – summ4-1D and summ4-2D have been identified and characterized. summ4-1D and summ4-2D contain mutations in the promoter region of MKK6, which leads to elevated expression of MKK6, causing suppression of the mkk1 mkk2 autoimmune phenotypes. However, the autoimmune phenotypes of mekk1 and mpk4 cannot be suppressed by summ4-1D. MKK6 interacts with MEKK1 and MPK4, and MPK4 activation is blocked in mkk1 mkk2, but is recovered in the summ4-1D mkk1 mkk2 triple mutant background. These results suggest that MKK6 functions in parallel with MKK1 and MKK2 to negatively regulate plant immunity.

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Functional analysis of a plant metacaspase in negative regulation of innate immunity (2017)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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Genetic Analysis of Anp2/3-Mkk6-Mpk4 Cascade in Plant Immunity (2016)

Recognition of pathogens through pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) or effectors in plants activates a variety of defense responses including MAPKs signaling pathways and defense related genes expression. ANPs (Arabidopsis Nucleus- and Phragmoplast- localized kinase 1 related protein kinases), including ANP1, ANP2, ANP3 are three MAP kinase kinase kinases that form a MAP kinase cascade with downstream MKK6 and MPK4 to regulate cytokinesis process. In this study, we showed that the anp2 anp3 double mutants exhibit constitutive expression of PR (Pathogenesis-Related) genes and enhanced resistance against oomycete pathogen H. a. Noco2, suggesting that ANP2 and ANP3 negatively regulate plant immunity. In addition, loss function of MKK6 causes high levels of PR gene expression, indicating that MKK6 is involved in negative regulation of defense responses. Since MPK4 was previously shown to function as a negative regulator of plant immunity, we tested whether MPK4 functions downstream of ANP2/ANP3 and MKK6 in plant immunity by introducing CA-MPK4 transgene, which expresses a constitutively active (CA) variant of MPK4, to anp2 anp3 and mkk6. Constitutive expression of PR genes and enhanced resistance to H.a. Noco2 in anp2 anp3 and mkk6 were partially suppressed by expressing CA MPK4, suggesting that the ANP2/ANP3, MKK6 and MPK4 function in a MAPK cascade to negatively regulate defense responses. To find out components that function downstream of ANP2/ANP3- MKK6-MPK4 cascade in plant immunity, two mutants summ2-8 (SUPPRESSOR OF MKK1 MKK2 2) and pad4-1 (PHYTOALEXIN DEFICIENT 4) were crossed into anp2 anp3 respectively. The constitutive defense responses in anp2 anp3 were fully suppressed by pad4-1, but not affected by the summ2-8 mutation, suggesting that PAD4 functions downstream of ANP2/ANP3 and that immune responses mediated by certain TIR-NB-LRR R proteins might be activated in the anp2 anp3 mutant.

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Regulation of SOBIR1 Accumulation and Defence Activation in an Autoimmune Mutant by Specific Components of ER Quality Controls (2015)

Plants are sessile organisms that are surrounded by pathogens. To stay healthy, they need a complex and sensitive immune system. Specific pattern-recognition receptors (PRRs) localized on the plasma membrane can recognize conserved motifs from pathogens and transduce the signal into the cell to initiate defence responses. The receptor-like kinase BAK1-INTERACTING RECEPTOR-LIKE KINASE 1 (BIR1), functions as a negative regulator of plant immunity. bir1-1 exhibits spontaneous cell death and constitutive defence responses that are dependent on SUPPRESSOR OF BIR1,1 (SOBIR1) and PHYTOALEXIN DEFICIENT 4 (PAD4). Here I present the evidence that ER-quality control, a collective mechanism ensuring that only native proteins are produced by the secretary pathway, plays important roles in regulating defence responses in bir1-1. Five components in ER-quality control pathways, including CRT3, UGGT, STT3a, ERdj3b and SDF2, are all required for the immune responses in bir1-1. Western blot analysis showed that mutations in CRT3, ERdj3b and UGGT lead to reduced accumulation of SOBIR1 protein. The data suggest that ER-quality control plays an important role in the accumulation of SOBIR1 and is required for the defence responses in bir1-1.

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