Research Focus

Galls are fascinating example of host plant manipulation. Different gall formers hijack existing plant developmental pathways to induce these ectopic plant structures in diverse forms and colours. Insects induce the most diverse and complex galls to create specialised structures with protective & nutritional benefits at the expense of plant health. Because galls originate from the manipulation of only a few cells at oviposition/feeding sites, they present a unique entry point to not only understand host manipulation, but also to study growth-defence interplay at single cell level.

At the Ma lab, we will harness the power of gall-inducing insects, nature’s own plant manipulators, to explore the intricate interplay between plant development and defence signalling.

Due to the lack of a plant model for insect-induced galls, molecular mechanisms of how insects hijack plant signalling to cause such complex cellular changes remain elusive. The Ma lab aims to pioneer a novel gall model by establishing the interaction between the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and Swede Midge (Contarinia nasturtii), a major pest of all cultivated Brassicaceae. This new model system will boost our understanding of gall induction and insect/host interactions at molecular level. Our lab will integrate a range of disciplines -- genetics, transcriptomics, metabolomics with molecular biology and advanced imaging -- to uncover the genetic & signalling determinants of gall formation and characterise key hormonal and receptor/signalling during gall formation from single cell to whole organ level. Our research will shed light on the mysteries of gall creation and provide new perspectives to understand development & defence signalling interaction.

Our core values are integrity, curiosity and enthusiasm! The Ma lab will be a stimulating environment where we make new discoveries together and fully appreciate the joy of science.