Dr Simon Williams

PhD, BBiotech(Hons)
Lecturer (ARC Future Fellow)
College of Science

Areas of expertise

  • Structural Biology (Incl. Macromolecular Modelling) 060112
  • Plant Biology 0607
  • Plant Cell And Molecular Biology 060702
  • Synthetic Biology 060113

Research interests

Structural Biology / Synthetic Biology / Plant-Microbe Interactions / Plant Innate Immunity / Fungal Pathogenesis

Biography

I was awarded my PhD in protein biochemistry from Flinders University in April 2010. My doctoral work was carried out in the laboratory of A/Prof Peter Anderson, School of Biological Sciences, and involved the use of protein biochemistry to understand the activation mechanisms of plant innate immune receptors.

After completing my PhD in 2010 I took up a postdoctoral research fellow position at the University of Queensland (UQ) working with Professor of Structural Biology, ARC Laureate Fellow, Bostjan Kobe. In this role, I led the laboratory’s plant-microbe interactions research program for approximately 6.5 years.

In 2015, I was awarded a Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) from the Australian Research Council to join the Research School of Biology (RSB) at ANU. in April 2016 I joined Professor Peter Solomon's group within the RSB to utilise protein biochemistry, structural biology and plant biology techniques to understanding how effector proteins from necrotrophic fungi cause disease in wheat.

In July 2018, I was employed as a lab leader, via a competitive recruitment process, in the Division of Plant Sciences, RSB, ANU. In October 2018, I was awarded an ANU Futures Scheme grant to support the establishment of my own laboratory and research program. In July 2020, I was awarded a prestigious ARC Future Fellowship aimed at understanding the molecular basis of fungal rust diseases in plants.

The Williams Plant Structural Immunology research laboratory is positioned within the Plant Microbe Interaction theme, Division of Plant Science in RSB. We utilise structural biology, protein biochemistry and synthetic biology approaches to study fungal pathogenesis and plant immunity.

ORCID

Researcher ID

Google scholar

Researcher's projects

My labs research activites are related to a number of current and previous research grants list here:

ARC Future Fellowship (2020-24): Understanding the molecular basis of fungal rust diseases in plants

ARC Discovery Grant (2020-23): Molecular basis for susceptibility and immunity to Fusarium wilt disease

ANU Future Scheme (2018-23): Understand the interactions between plant pathogenic fungi and crops of agricultural importance

Thomas Davies Research Grant (2020-22): Establishing a synthetic biology workflow for plant innate immunity receptor engineering

ARC DECRA (2016-19): How do effector proteins from necrotrophic fungi cause disease in plants?

Available student projects

We have numerous student projects availble relating to structural biology, synthetic biology and plant microbe interactions - please contact me directly for an up to date list of possible projects.

Our primary research objective is to understand the molecular basis of the interactions between plant hosts and the microorganisms, particularly fungi, that colonise them.

To do this we use molecular biology, protein biochemistry/biophysics and structural biology approaches.

Our research encompasses two broad themes

Theme 1: Plant immunity receptors - We want to understand how extracellular and intracellular immunity receptors in plants detect and respond to the recognition of effector (virulence) proteins from plant pathogens. This knowledge will be critical to understand the function of these receptors during resistance responses. It will also inform future gene-editing/genetic engineering approaches to manipulate and enhance plant disease resistance.

See publications 10.1073/pnas.1609922113, 10.1126/science.1247357, 10.1126/science.aax1911, 10.1073/pnas.1621248114, 10.1094/MPMI-03-11-0052, 10.1016/j.chom.2019.07.020

Theme 2: Pathogen effector (virulence) proteins - We want to understand how pathogen effector proteins perturb and/or activate defence pathways. To date, we have a poor understanding of effector virulence function, particularly in eukaryotic pathogens. I’m currently tackling this fundamental knowledge gap by studying multiple model and commercially relevant pathosystems.

See publications 10.1101/2020.05.27.120113, 10.1111/tpj.13228, 10.1111/mpp.12385, 10.1016/j.tplants.2017.06.013, 10.1111/mpp.12597

Current student projects

  • Investigating the structure and function of fungal Nudix hydrolases in pathogen virulence (PhD - Carl McCombe)
  • Structural investigation of the interaction between SIX effectors from Fusarium oxysporum and plant resistance proteins (PhD - Daniel Yu)
  • The structural characterisation of NLR and effector protein pairs using a novel Escherichia coli expression system (Honours - Emma Crean)

Publications

Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  10 August 2020 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers