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Dec 18
InterConnections: Get to Know Mohamed Hafez

Evolution of the ToxB Gene in Pyrenophora tritici-repentis and Related Species

Name: Mohamed Hafez

Current Position: Research Biologist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Education: B.S. and M.S. degrees in microbiology, Suez Canal University, Egypt; Ph.D. degree in microbiology, University of Manitoba, Canada

Nonscientific Interests: Photography and chess

Brief Bio: Earlier my career, I conducted research in the field of molecular biology and fungal genetics as a Ph.D. student in Dr. Georg Hausner's lab (Department of Microbiology, University of Manitoba, Canada), then as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Franz Lang's group (Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of Montreal, Canada). In Dr. Hausner's lab, my work aimed to understand the evolutionary dynamics of mobile introns and their encoded open reading frames (such as DNA-cutting meganucleases). An important finding from my Ph.D. project was the characterization of two novel DNA-cutting enzymes (i.e., I-OmiI and I-OmiII) with applications in genome editing. In Dr. Lang's lab, my research was part of a large-scale project titled “GenoRem," the goal of which was to improve bioremediation of polluted soils through environmental genomics. My research in GenoRem led to one of the biggest achievements in my career, which was the discovery and characterization of a novel RNA family called mitochondrial transfer-messenger RNA (mt-tmRNA) encoded within the mitochondrial genomes of many Oomycetes. My second postdoctoral position in Dr. Fouad Daayf's lab (Plant Science Department, University of Manitoba, Canada) introduced me to the basics of plant pathology by being involved in a project to investigate the cross-pathogenicity of some Fusarium spp. between cereal and pulse crops in Manitoba (a prairie region of Canada producing mainly cereals and pulses). During this project, we developed the first specific molecular marker for the important Fusarium head blight pathogen F. graminearum sensu stricto and reported an emerging disease, soybean root rot caused by F. cerealis. Currently, I am working as a research biologist in Dr. Reem Aboukhaddour's lab (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lethbridge Research and Development Centre). In Dr. Aboukhaddour's lab (Cereal Pathology), my research is centered on investigating plant pathogens associated with cereal crops in western Canada (and worldwide through international collaboration), as well as studying plant–microbe interactions and how disease-causing microorganisms (mainly fungi) sustain themselves within their hosts. Moreover, we investigate virulence gene diversity and its impact on pathogenicity, as well as the discovery and biochemical characterization of novel effectors encoded by necrotrophic fungal plant pathogens. In addition to research experience, I have built substantial teaching and supervision experience. I have taught a variety of biology, microbiology, and molecular biology courses during my work as a lecturer at Suez University (Egypt) and as a session instructor with the Department of Microbiology, University of Manitoba (Canada). I also have supervised many masters and Ph.D. students in Egyptian and Canadian universities.

In Dr. Aboukhaddour's lab, I combine my long experience in microbiology, molecular biology, plant pathology, and bioinformatics to answer many important research questions regarding the diversity and evolution of effector-encoding genes. We have designed molecular tools to detect and characterize the neglected ToxB gene (encoding chlorosis-inducing effector), and its homolog (toxb) in the tan spot pathogen Pyrenophora tritici-repentis and related species. We have explored ToxB/toxb in a large number of P. tritici-repentis isolates that represent all known pathotypes from different geographic regions and have identified the presence of toxb homologs in P. teres (the barley pathogen) and many other plant fungal pathogens for the first time. This work has provided novel insights into ToxB, its homologs, and its evolution via duplication or loss of function and the variation in its upstream regulatory sequences in various isolates or species, which add significant value to the effector research community.

I hope to continue my research on understanding the molecular basis underlying the interactions between necrotrophic fungal pathogens and their host crops. This can help us to develop long-term effective management options for necrotrophs infecting economically important cereal crops.

Learn more about the research project in "Research Highlight: Evolution of the ToxB Gene in Pyrenophora tritici-repentis and Related Species​" by Reem Aboukhaddour. ​

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