Dr. Helen Fones (POINT 2011-12)


University of Exeter

College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Biosciences, Geoffrey Pope Building

Dahlem Centre of Plant Sciences

Stocker Road
Exter EX4 4QD, UK

Dr Helen Fones received her B.A. in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford (UK) before pursuing her M.Sc. at the University of Birmingham.  After returning to Oxford to work with Dr Gail Preston and Prof Andrew Smith, she received a D.Phil. in Plant Science in 2010.   Her D.Phil. thesis was entitled ‘The Ecological and Evolutionary Significance of Disease Resistance in Metal Hyperaccumulating Plants’.  Dr Fones’ work focussed on the effect of hyperaccumulated metals upon interactions between the plant, Noccaea caerulescens, and the bacterial phytopathogen, Pseudomonas syringae pv. maculicola, showing that metals can directly defend this plant against disease, and demonstrating that other defences in this plant have been lost. Dr Fones has also shown the importance of metal based defences in natural settings, finding that pathogens infecting N. caerulescens have undergone local adaptation to the metal rich environments in which it grows. 

After completing her D.Phil, Dr Fones spent a year at the University of Oxford, teaching undergraduate courses in statistics, practical courses in biological science, and tutorials in both areas, as well as helping to prepare and teach biological techniques courses at the University’s doctoral training centre.  She was also involved in the administration of the University examinations in biological science.

Building on the work undertaken for her doctoral thesis, Dr Fones now investigates the potential for cross-talk between nutritional stress caused by deficiency, or toxic excess, of zinc or nitrogen, and biotic stress caused by pathogen invasion, with a view to elucidating links between nutritional stress signalling and disease resistance.

In July 2013, Dr Fones received a position as associate research fellow at the University of Exeter.

Dr Fones’ current work seeks to elucidate links between abiotic stress, caused by excess or deficiency of either Nitrogen or Zinc, and resistance to pathogens.  Firstly, she is investigating the ability of Arabidopsis thaliana plants grown on varying Zn or N regimes to resist attack by both biotrophic (Pseudomonas syringae) and necrotrophic (Dickeya dadantii) bacterial pathogens, and their responses to these attacks, including the reactive oxygen burst, callose deposition, signalling through the SA and JA pathways, and changes in gene expression.  Secondly, she is attempting to determine the mechanism underlying such interactions, drawing on and learning from the expertise in plant stress signalling here at the FU Berlin, particularly of her colleagues in the working group of Prof Tina Romeis.  Ultimately she hopes that her current work might in future be extended from Arabidopsis into economically relevant crop species.

Fones H, Davis CAR, Rico A, Fang F, Smith JAC and Preston GM. (2010) Metal Hyperaccumulation Armors Plants against Disease. PLoS Pathogens 6(9): e1001093. 

Fones, H and Preston, GM. (2012) The Importance of Reactive Oxygen and ROS Tolerance for Pathogenicity in Plant-Pathogenic Pseudomonas. FEMS Microbiology Letters 327: 1-8

Fones, H and Preston, GM. Transition metals in the virulence of plant pathogens and the outcome of plant-pathogen interactions. FEMS Microbiology Reviews - invited review; submitted.

Fones, H, Smith JAC and Preston, GM. A new model for the evolution of elemental defence in the metal hyperaccumulator Noccaea caerulescens (in preparation).

Fones, H, Smith, JAC and Preston, GM. Bacterial endophytes of a natural population of the zinc hyperaccumultor Noccaea caerulescens reveal the importance of zinc tolerance for infection and evidence for local adaptation of the pathogen community (in preparation).

Fones, H, Smith, JAC and Preston, GM.  Variation in defence signalling across four populations of the metal hyperaccumulator, Noccaea caerulescens (in preparation).