Thorsten Langner

Adaptive evolution of filamentous plant pathogens

Max Planck Insitute for Biology Tübingen
Adjunct faculty in: IMPRS


  • PhD, Department of Microbiology, Heinrich-Heine University, Duesseldorf, Germany (2011-2015)
  • Postdoctoral Researcher, The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, UK (2016-2021)
  • Senior Postdoctoral Researcher, The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, UK (2021-2023)
  • Research Group Leader, Department of Molecular Biology, Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen, Germany (since 2023)

Research Interest

Plant pathogens are in constant coevolutionary conflict with their hosts. Selective forces imposed by the host plants have shaped the pathogen genomes and left molecular signatures in virulence related proteins. We use a multidisciplinary approach, including comparative genomics, evolutionary biology, genetics, as well as biophysics and structural biology to dissect the mechanisms that facilitate chromosome-scale, structural genomic variation, and their impact on molecular plant-pathogen co-evolution.

Our research focusses on three main aspects:

Genome Evolution
We recently found that the blast fungus, Magnaporthe oryzae, possesses a highly diverse set of supernumerary mini-chromosomes that contribute to horizontal chromosome transfer and extensive structural genomic variation. In our research program, we aim to address following questions revolving around plant pathogen genome evolution: 1) How dynamic are mini-chromosomes? 2) To which extent do mini-chromosomes facilitate genomic rearrangements? 3) How is mini-chromosome emergence and maintenance regulated? 4) What are the molecular mechanisms underlying mini-chromosome emergence, rearrangements, and transfer?

Molecular Evolution
Pathogen virulence effectors rapidly evolve to adapt to various host plant genotypes or species. Our preliminary data suggest that genomic rearrangements (including mini-chromosome associated rearrangements) coincide with genomic regions that are rich in transposable elements and virulence effector genes. We want to understand to which extent structural genomic rearrangements contribute to increased evolutionary rates in virulence related regions in pathogen genomes. We will build on this knowledge to study the molecular consequences of these events on the molecular evolution of virulence proteins using both, dry and wet lab approaches, including genetics, biochemistry, biophysics, and structural biology. Ultimately, we want to understand how these mutations change the protein structure and their interaction with plant proteins, and how these changes help pathogens to cause disease on diverse host plants.

Plant immunity
Plants possess a highly complex immune system that includes cell-surface and intracellular immune receptors. In recent years, a new concept emerged suggesting that, during the evolution of the plant immune system, some protein domains, that are targets for pathogen attacks, integrated in plant immune receptors where they now act as so-called integrated domains that bait pathogen effectors into recognition, causing an immune response. We will exploit this concept and use our knowledge gained from studying pathogen effector / host target interactions to design bioengineered plant immune receptor with new recognition specificities.


Available PhD Projects

  • Currently not recruiting PhD students.


Selected Reading

  • *Latorre SM, *Were VM, *Foster AJ, *Langner T, Malmgren A, et al. 2023. Genomic surveillance uncovers a pandemic clonal lineage of the wheat blast fungus. PLOS Biology, 2023 21(4): e3002052. (* shared first authorship)
  • Bentham AR, Petit-Houdenot Y, Win J, Chuma I, Terauchi R, Banfield MJ, Kamoun S, Langner T. 2021. A single amino acid polymorphism in a conserved effector of the multihost blast fungus pathogen expands host-target binding spectrum. PLOS Pathogens 2021 17:e1009957.
  • Langner T, Harant A, Gomez-Luciano LB, Shrestha RK, Malmgren A, Latorre SM, Burbano HA, Win J, Kamoun S. 2021. Genomic rearrangements generate hypervariable mini-chromosomes in host-specific isolates of the blast fungus. PLOS Genetics 2021 17:e1009386.
  • Białas A, Langner T, Harant A, Contreras MP, Stevenson CE, Lawson DM, Sklenar J, Kellner R, Moscou MJ, Terauchi R, Banfield MJ, Kamoun S. 2021. Two NLR immune receptors acquired high-affinity binding to a fungal effector through convergent evolution of their integrated domain. eLife 2021 10:e66961.
  • Langner T, Kamoun S, Belhaj K. 2018. CRISPR Crops: Plant genome editing towards disease resistance. Annual Review of Phytopathology 2018 56:1, 479-512. Review article.













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