By Zoe Taylor

As food security becomes an acute global problem due to factors such as population growth, land degradation and climate change, research into development of disease resistant crops is paramount. While there has been considerable progress made in research of foliar pathogens, there is less research on root infecting fungal pathogens, which can destroy entire crops in severe cases.

Professor Karam Singh is an internationally-recognised CSIRO/Curtin plant molecular pathologist with expertise in soil-borne fungal pathogens and insect pests, and using genomics for legume crop improvement.

He is currently researching how plant roots defend themselves against root infecting pathogens, including broad host range, necrotrophic fungal pathogens of cereals and legumes, thereby enhancing resistance to diseases. Necrotrophic fungal pathogens typically kill their hosts and then feed on the dead matter, while hemibiotrophs keep the plant alive during the initial infection process before switching to necrotrophy.

Professor Singh is also examining how legumes distinguish between ‘friends’ and ‘foes’ to maintain and enhance symbiotic interactions with beneficial microbes while increasing the crop’s defence capabilities.

This research has enabled Professor Singh to take an interdisciplinary approach and collaborate with international researchers to develop novel strategies to breed pathogen-resistant plants, for which conventional approaches have been unsuccessful.

In addition to his long-standing interests in molecular plant pathology, Professor Singh is also passionate about using the power of new functional genomic processes to tackle major issues facing Australian and international agriculture in both disease and legume crop improvement areas.

He has made a number of pioneering contributions to plant pathology and genomics, and has developed major research programs including plant responses to pests (aphids) and pathogens (soil-borne necrotrophic fungi), and crop genomics with a focus on legumes (lupins and chickpea). These areas have been highly productive and are providing pre-breeding outputs to help develop more resilient and productive crops.

Professor Singh has been a research scientist with CSIRO in Perth since 1999. Prior to this, he was a tenured faculty member at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is currently joint Director of the Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM). As Director, Professor Singh aims to enhance the centre’s ability in making important scientific breakthroughs, and make real differences to the profitability and sustainability of Australian cropping businesses.