Dr Graeme Kettles PhD

Dr Graeme Kettles

School of Biosciences
Assistant Professor in Plant Pathology

Contact details

S218, School of Biosciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Graeme Kettles is a molecular plant pathologist with diverse interests across the range of biotic threats that plants encounter. His most recent projects involved study of the virulence strategies used by fungal pathogens of wheat. He is currently establishing a program of tree pathology at Birmingham, in collaboration with the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR).


  • 2004 BSc Hons, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  • 2005 MRes, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  • 2012 PhD, John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK
    Thesis title: “Analysis of Arabidopsis thaliana small RNA-mediated defence responses to infestation by the green peach aphid Myzus persicae


Graeme completed his PhD in the laboratory of Prof Saskia Hogenhout at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. During his PhD, he studied the role of plant RNA silencing pathways in mediating defence reactions against aphid pests. He then moved to the University of California to conduct postdoctoral work in the group of Prof Isgouhi Kaloshian at UC Riverside. In this work, Graeme continued in the field of plant-aphid interactions, but hopped the fence to the “aphid side”. Here he examined how proteins secreted into plants by aphids when they feed (effectors) are able to suppress plant immune responses. Graeme then returned to the UK to take up a postdoctoral appointment at Rothamsted Research under supervision of Dr Jason Rudd and Dr Kostya Kanyuka. Here Graeme furthered his interest in effector biology, focusing on the wheat-infecting fungal pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici. This work opened up new interests in the fields of plant non-host resistance and the role of effectors in microbe-microbe interactions. In 2018, Graeme took up the position of Lecturer in Plant Pathology at Birmingham.

Postgraduate supervision

Graeme will be looking to recruit PhD and Masters level students in the 2018-19 academic year. Please contact Graeme directly if you are interested in projects that are currently available.


Our lab seeks to understand the events that occur at the cellular and molecular levels, which result in plants being resistant or susceptible to disease. To do this, we utilise wet-lab and bioinformatic approaches which examine both the plant and pathogen sides of the interaction in model, crop and tree systems. The Kettles lab is specifically interested in the following areas:

Pathogen effectors – to overcome the powerful plant immune system, pathogens secrete effector proteins to suppress host immunity and facilitate colonisation. Identification of effectors, how they work and how they might be recognized by plants promises much for the future genetic control of plant diseases.

Non-host resistance (NHR) – NHR is a long-known but poorly understood form of plant disease resistance. However, it offers great potential as it is highly robust and not easily overcome by pathogens. Successfully harnessing NHR could revolutionise the control of diseases in crop and tree systems. We are particularly interested in the contribution that effector recognition makes to NHR.

Plant microbiomes – the complex communities of microorganisms that associate with plants are now known to be important factors in increasing overall plant health and offering protection from environmental stress. Knowing how these complex communities assemble, change over time and limit incursion by potential pathogens could lead to new ways to limit losses to disease.

Impact of CO2 on the plant immune system – Global environmental change, including the increased level of CO2 in the atmosphere will likely have significant impact on agriculture and forestry. We are starting to investigate how acclimations made by plants to a high CO2 environment will influence their ability to withstand pathogens and pests.

The goal of our research is to develop new and effective ways to combat disease-causing organisms. For crops, this will contribute towards food security at a time when humanity faces the grand challenge of feeding a rapidly growing population. Our work in collaboration with the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) aims to enhance understanding of disease processes in trees and how this might be influenced by climate change. To do this, we make use of the unique BIFoR-FACE facility at Mill Haft woodland in Staffordshire. Our aim is to help safeguard these long-lived organisms which contribute to the vitality of our countryside and cities.

Other activities

Member of the International Society for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions (IS-MPMI).


  • Snelders, N. C., Kettles, G. J., Rudd, J. J. & Thomma, B. P. H. J. Plant pathogen effector proteins as manipulators of host microbiomes? Mol. Plant Pathol. 19, 257–259 (2018).
  • Kettles, G. J. et al. Characterization of an antimicrobial and phytotoxic ribonuclease secreted by the fungal wheat pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici. New Phytol. 217, 320–331 (2018).
  • Kettles, G. J., Bayon, C., Canning, G., Rudd, J. J. & Kanyuka, K. Apoplastic recognition of multiple candidate effectors from the wheat pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici in the nonhost plant Nicotiana benthamiana. New Phytol. 213, 338–350 (2017).
  • Mathers, T. C. et al. Rapid transcriptional plasticity of duplicated gene clusters enables a clonally reproducing aphid to colonise diverse plant species. Genome Biol. 18, 27 (2017).
  • Kettles, G. J. & Kanyuka, K. Dissecting the Molecular Interactions between Wheat and the Fungal Pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici. Front. Plant Sci. 7, 508 (2016).
  • Kettles, G. J. & Kaloshian, I. The Potato Aphid Salivary Effector Me47 Is a Glutathione-S-Transferase Involved in Modifying Plant Responses to Aphid Infestation. Front. Plant Sci. 7, 1142 (2016).
  • Kettles, G. J., Drurey, C., Schoonbeek, H., Maule, A. J. & Hogenhout, S. A. Resistance of Arabidopsis thaliana to the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae, involves camalexin and is regulated by microRNAs. New Phytol. 198, 1178–1190 (2013).