Population genetics and evolutionary biology of plant pathogenic fungi

Plant Pathology

Plant pathogens evolve rapidly to overcome the disease control strategies that are deployed against them. Resistance genes often fail within a few years after deployment and fungicide resistance often emerges within a few years after the first spray. Our research is oriented around understanding the processes that drive pathogen evolution with the aim of developing disease management strategies that will remain effective for a long time. Our research is oriented mainly at the level of populations and often includes the individual organisms, but rarely focuses on cellular or molecular processes. We use many approaches in our research including: experimental evolution in field, greenhouse, and Petri dish settings; comparative genomics based on next-generation sequencing technologies; QTL mapping to identify genes encoding fungicide resistance and pathogen virulence; coalescent analyses of housekeeping genes to reconstruct evolutionary histories of pathogen clades; sequence analyses of genes encoding effectors and other proteins involved in pathogen-plant interactions to identify important mutations; digital image analysis to quantify important quantitative characters.

Research topics

  • Pathogen origins and pathogen emergence

  • Pathogen evolutionary biology

  • Pathogen population genetics and phylogeography

  • Fungal genomics and effectors

  • Fungicide resistance

  • Deployment of disease resistance genes


  • Sustainable agriculture

  • Plant breeding and crop biotechnology

  • Quantitative genetics

  • World Food System

  • Genetic Diversity Center

  • Comparative genomics

Contact Person

Prof. Dr. Bruce McDonald

ETH Zurich
Institute of Integrative Biology
+41 (0)44 632 38 47

Recent publications

  • Title: Quantitative trait locus mapping reveals complex genetic architecture of quantitative virulence in the wheat pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici
    Author(s): Stewart, Ethan L.; Croll, Daniel; Lendenmann, Mark H.; et al.
    Source: MOLECULAR PLANT PATHOLOGY, 19 (1): 201-216 JAN 2018
    Document Type: Article (Details)
  • Title: Reversing resistance: different routes and common themes across pathogens
    Author(s): Allen, Richard C.; Engelstadter, Jan; Bonhoeffer, Sebastian; et al.
    Document Type: Review (Details)
  • Title: Mutations in the CYP51 gene reduce DMI sensitivity in Parastagonospora nodorum populations in Europe and China
    Author(s): Pereira, Danilo A. S.; McDonald, Bruce A.; Brunner, Patrick C.
    Source: PEST MANAGEMENT SCIENCE, 73 (7): 1503-1510 JUL 2017
    Document Type: Article (Details)
  • Title: The genetic basis of local adaptation for pathogenic fungi in agricultural ecosystems
    Author(s): Croll, Daniel; McDonald, Bruce A.
    Source: MOLECULAR ECOLOGY, 26 (7): 2027-2040 APR 2017
    Document Type: Review (Details)
  • Title: A fungal wheat pathogen evolved host specialization by extensive chromosomal rearrangements
    Author(s): Hartmann, Fanny E.; Sanchez-Vallet, Andrea; McDonald, Bruce A.; et al.
    Source: ISME JOURNAL, 11 (5): 1189-1204 MAY 2017
    Document Type: Article (Details)