Plants and microorganisms are critical to the environment, food security and human health. They face the full brunt of abiotic stress in the form of temperature changes, water availability, atmospheric/soil pollutants and biotic stress by imposed by pathogenic organisms. There are inherent gaps in our understanding of how plants and microbes survive, sense and respond to environmental change. With this in mind, my research activities focus on: Plant-Pathogen and plant-mycotoxin interactions Many fungi attack and reduce the yield of economically-important cereals and some (e.g. Fusarium) produce substances (mycotoxins) in grain that are harmful to human and animal health. We study the influence of environment and host genotype on the response of cereals to fungal diseases and mycotoxins. In two recently completed EU Framework 5 projects, we analysed the influence of environmental change on Fusarium diseases of wheat and the influence of mycotoxins on wheat gene expression (1 PhD student and 2 postdoctorates). In ongoing research funded by Science Foundation Ireland (Principal Investigator and Research Frontiers projects) and Teagasc, we are analysing the effect of fungi and their toxic metabolites on the wheat transcriptome (4 PhD students and 3 postdoctorates). Analysis of gene function in wheat in response to toxic substances has implications for the better understanding of stress biology, epigenetics, and will impact on the agricultural and environmental sector of the community (this research is critical for the production of safer mycotoxin-free foodstuffs and for identifying novel plant genes). New technologies for the generation of transgenic plants In collaboration with Teagasc, we have developed Ensifer-Mediated Transformation (EMT) as an alternative to Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transformation for the generation of transgenic plants. We have applied this to successfully introgress genes into Arabidopsis and potato and are currently testing its potential for other crops, including cereals and soya. Biological control of plant diseases Control of microbial diseases of plants using microorganisms (i.e. biological control or 'biocontrol') offers an environmentally friendly alternative to chemical pesticides. As part of a Department of Agriculture Research Stimulus Project, we isolated a range of bacteria that control fungal diseases of cereals and characterised their mode of action (1 PhD and 1 Masters student). In collaboration with Teagasc, we recently applied for an Enterprise Ireland Proof of Concept grant (Jan. 2006) to determine the commercial potential of these biopesticides. Microbial Biodiversity Microbial biodiversity is a key indicator of soil health. We currently participate in two large Environmental Protection Agency-funded projects that are investigating the microbial biodiversity of Irish soils and how it is influenced by human practices (1 PhD student and 1 to be appointed).