Our Team

Management & Directors

Dr. Roger Freedman


2Blades Project

Dr. Roger Freedman works for David Sainsbury, the settlor of the Gatsby Foundation and until recently the UK Minister of Science and Innovation. Dr. Freedman established the Gatsby Foundation’s programs in plant science and neuroscience and continues to serve the Foundation’s much expanded plant science program. He has been a member of the governing council of the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich since its establishment and is a member of the management board of the second Sainsbury Laboratory now established in Cambridge. He initiated development of JICI (now PBL), the technology licensing company based at the John Innes Centre, remaining as a non-executive director of the company for the first ten years of its operation. In parallel with these activities, he has also been involved in developing the practical applications of new technologies through commercial development. Dr. Freedman has advised venture capital funds in the US and Europe on plant biotechnology investments and has acted as a scientific advisor, research director, director or chairman of start up technology companies in the UK and the US. Dr. Freedman got his B.A. at Cambridge and received his Ph.D. for research in molecular genetics at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, before getting his first introduction to America as a postdoc at the Stanford Department of Biochemistry.

Dr. Diana Horvath

President, Director

Dr. Diana Horvath’s interests are in the delivery of seed with improved disease resistance, particularly for subsistence farmers.  Before joining Roger Freedman to set up 2Blades, she served as Science Director at ATP Capital, a New York venture capital firm that invested in companies developing agricultural biotechnologies. Focusing on technology and intellectual property, she helped to build and manage a portfolio of companies involved in forestry biotechnology, transcriptome and proteome analysis, small molecule discovery, and embryonic stem cells. Prior to that, Dr. Horvath conducted research on the molecular mechanisms of plant disease resistance as a National Science Foundation fellow and Zeneca Plant Science fellow at the Rockefeller University.  Dr. Horvath received her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Northwestern University.  She spent a year conducting research on maize and millet production in southern Africa at the Department of Agricultural Research in Botswana, after graduating from Tufts University with a BS in Biology.

Dr. T. Lynne Reuber

Program Director

Dr. Lynne Reuber’s goal is to translate the recent revolutionary academic discoveries in plant pathology to disease resistant crops to the field.  Prior to joining 2Blades, Dr. Reuber was a Director of Research at Mendel Biotechnology, Inc., where she managed an inter-company collaboration to determine the mode of action of transcription factors providing yield and stress tolerance traits, led new trait discovery programs in the areas of yield, resource use efficiency, and disease resistance, and managed technology licensing relationships.  Dr. Reuber’s scientific background spans the interactions of plants with both disease causing and beneficial microbes. She conducted research as an ACS postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School on the defense reactions of plants to bacterial and fungal pathogens, after graduate work as a National Science Foundation fellow investigating symbiotic plant-microbe interactions.  She holds a Ph.D. in Biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.A. in Biology and Chemistry from Drury University. Dr. Reuber joined 2Blades in 2014.

Dr. Peter van Esse

Group Leader, The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich

Dr. Peter van Esse is the Principal Investigator of the 2Blades Group in the Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich. Before joining 2Blades, Dr. van Esse was awarded a personal VENI grant by The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). This allowed him to build on his graduate and postdoctoral research on fungal effector proteins of major pathogens of vegetable crops at the Wageningen University in the Laboratory of Phytopathology. Dr. van Esse received both his M.Sc. in Biotechnology and his Ph.D. in plant pathology from the Wageningen University and Research Centre, the Netherlands.

Dr. Jack Westwood

External Affairs Director

Dr. Westwood is committed to creating impact from the best scientific breakthroughs. Through building partnerships, collaborations, and effective communication, he hopes to help the best new discoveries make it from the lab and into the field, delivering practical impact where it is needed most.  Dr. Westwood joined 2Blades in April 2016 to return to his plant science ‘roots’ and to foster and communicate 2Blades achievements.  Most recently, he was Head of Science and Innovation at the British Consulate-General in Chicago, where he represented UK science in the Midwest US, building new research partnerships and collaborations across all areas of science. Dr. Westwood received his B.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, where he researched plant-virus-insect interactions, working on sugar beet, tobacco, and the model plant species Arabidopsis. During his postdoctoral work he sought to apply his findings to control spread of crop disease.

Susan Nycum


Susan Nycum provides mediation and arbitration services in domestic and international IP and technology related disputes.  Formerly, she was an international partner of Baker & McKenzie where she was chair of the firm’s North America Intellectual Property (IP) and Information Technology (IT) practice group, a coordinator of the firm’s global IT practice group and a member of the firm’s governing bodies for North America and for Asia Pacific. Ms. Nycum was a member of the National Science Foundation advisory board that approved funding for the Internet.  She has been an advisor to the governments of Brazil, Canada, Finland, Germany, India, Israel, Singapore, Thailand and the United States for IT and IP policy. Susan Nycum is the former Chair of the ABA section of Science and Technology and former President of the Computer Law Association. She was the Chair of the International Bar Association committee on software protection and committee on computer crime. She was twice the ABA appointee to the National Conference of Lawyers and Scientists.  She is a member of the IP panel, the Commercial panel and the Large Complex Case panel of the American Arbitration Association; member of the CPR Technology panel and the Electronic Discovery panel; fellow of the College of Commercial Arbitrators, fellow of the American Bar Foundation, fellow of the ACM, fellow of the College of Law Practice Management; member of the California Academy of Distinguished Neutrals, Board member of the Mediation Society and several other international mediation organizations.  She is listed in the Best Lawyers of America and the Northern California Super Lawyers.

Dr. Eric Ward


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Dr. Eric Ward is the co-CEO of AgBiome.  Between 2007 and 2012, he served as the President of the 2Blades Foundation and as Group Leader of the 2Blades Group at the Sainsbury Laboratory.  Prior to that he served as CEO of Cropsolution, Inc., a crop protection chemical discovery company, and before that he was Co-President of Novartis (now Syngenta) Agribusiness Biotechnology Research, where he was responsible for a staff of 270, including researchers and all administrative functions, including finance, patents, business development, public affairs, human resources, and facilities.  Simultaneously, Dr. Ward was head of target discovery for Novartis Crop Protection AG, where he implemented a fully integrated agricultural chemical lead discovery program based on proprietary molecular targets.  This program relied on extensive interactions with biotech firms and academic labs.  Prior to that, he was a Research Director for the Novartis herbicide business unit, during which time his team invented Acuron™ herbicide tolerance technology, developed corn and sugar beet varieties engineered with the Acuron™ gene, and built the patent strategy to protect the technology.  In 1994-5, he worked in Basel, Switzerland as a project leader for Ciba Crop Protection in the Weed Control business unit.  Dr. Ward began his career in 1988 with Ciba-Geigy as a postdoctoral associate, during which time he pioneered methods for cloning of large DNA fragments from plants.  He received his Ph.D. in plant biology from Washington University in St. Louis in 1988, where he was a graduate fellow of the National Science Foundation.  He received his B.S in biology magna cum laude from Duke University in 1982. 

2Blades Group, The Sainsbury Laboratory

Dr. Peter van Esse

Group Leader

2Blades Project

See Dr. van Esse’s biography above

Dr. Yogesh Gupta

Research Associate

Dr. Yogesh Gupta joined the 2Blades Group at TSL Norwich in November, 2014, to study the soybean rust pathogen, Phakopsora pachyrhizi, which infects legumes and cause severe yield losses to soybean production. Before joining 2Blades, Dr. Gupta was awarded the Halpin rice blast Ph.D. scholarship to work with Prof. Nick Talbot’s group at the University of Exeter, UK. During his graduate studies, Dr. Gupta defined the role of the exocyst complex in protein secretion during appressorium-mediated host invasion by the rice blast fungus, Magnaporthe oryzae. Prior to this, he worked at NRCPB, New Delhi as a Senior Research Fellow on allele mining of rice blast resistance genes from land races and wild relatives of rice. Dr. Gupta received his M.Sc. in Agricultural Biotechnology from the HPKV Agricultural University, Palampur, India, where he used marker-assisted selection for pyramiding rice blast resistance genes in susceptible rice cultivar.

Dr. Nadine Ilk

Research Associate

In 2014, Dr. Ilk joined the 2Blades Group at TSL to study the genetics of disease resistance against Phakopsora pachyrhizi in legumes.  Prior to her position at 2Blades, she conducted postdoctoral research on the genetics of developmental processes in response to abiotic stress factors at the Max-Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne (MPIPZ). Dr. Ilk was awarded a Ph.D. fellowship of the International Max-Planck Research School and graduated magna cum laude in studying the natural variation of plant performance traits in Arabidopsis in the Department of plant breeding and genetics of Maarten Koornneef at the MPIPZ. Before starting her doctoral studies, Dr. Ilk was a guest lecturer at the Rajamangala University of Bangkok, Thailand. She received her M.Sc. in biology at the Ruhr-University of Bochum, Germany. Dr. Ilk is currently a participant in the 2Blades master class in “Preparing the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs in Ag-Biotech.”

Dr. Cintia Kawashima

Research Associate

Dr. Cintia Kawashima joined the 2Blades Group to develop durable race independent resistance against Asian Soybean Rust, a devastating disease caused by the biotrophic fungal pathogen, Phakopsora pachyrhizi. Prior to taking up her current position in The Sainsbury Laboratory, Dr. Kawashima worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the group of professor Tamas Dalmay, working on the role of miRNAs in the regulation of sulphate assimilation in Arabidopsis at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Prior to this research, she worked for 10 months as an academic visitor on polyamine biosynthesis in Arabidopsis at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich. Before moving to the UK, Dr. Kawashima was awarded a Mombukagakusho scholarship and carried out her Ph.D on sulphur metabolism in Arabidopsis in the group of professor Kazuki Saito at Chiba University, Japan. Dr. Kawashima graduated in Biological Sciences from the North Fluminense State University, Brazil and received her M.Sc. in plant biotechnology from the same university.

Dr. Julie Ku

Research Assistant

Dr. Julie Ku joined the 2Blades Group at TSL as a research assistant in 2014 to apply her molecular biology knowledge and skills to the understanding of how the obligate biotrophic fungus, Phakopsora pachyrhizi, infects legume species. Prior to joining the 2Blades group, she performed her Ph.D. studies on plant growth in Dr. Peter Doerner’s research group at the University of Edinburgh, UK. Dr. Ku received her doctorate for her research on characterising plant-specific transcription factors that mediate growth and development during both normal conditions, as well as in response to genotoxic stress. Before starting her graduate studies, she went on an exchange study program to UC Berkeley where she participated in a research project in plant development. Dr. Ku received her B.Sc. of Life Science Life Sciences from the National Taiwan University.

Dr. Sarah Schmidt

Research Associate

2Blades Group

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Dr. Sarah Maria Schmidt has been awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship to address Panama Disease of bananas in the 2Blades Group. Dr. Schmidt has a strong background in fungal plant diseases. Prior to joining the 2Blades group, she conducted her postdoctoral research on virulence genes of Fusarium, the causal agent of Panama Disease, at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Dr. Schmidt was awarded an IMPRS fellowship for her PhD studies on effector genes of the barley powdery mildew fungus at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Breeding Research and graduated magna cum laude in 2009. She studied biology and chemistry in Frankfurt, Bonn, and Toulouse, as a fellow of the German National Academic Foundation. In 2014, Dr. Schmidt helped to establish collections of banana cultivars and Fusarium isolates as part of a multi-disciplinary team in Indonesia to examine the existing biodiversity.

Scientific Advisory Board

Professor Sir David Baulcombe

University of Cambridge

Professor Sir David Baulcombe is a Royal Society Research Professor and the Regius Professor of Botany in the Plant Sciences Department of the University of Cambridge. He was a student in Botany at Leeds (BSc) and Edinburgh (PhD) Universities. After periods in Montreal, the University of Georgia and the Cambridge Plant Breeding Institute, he spent 20 years at the Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich. He joined Cambridge University in 2007.  Sir David is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a foreign associate member of the US National Academy of Sciences. His awards include the 2006 Royal Medal of the Royal Society, the 2008 Lasker Award for basic biomedical sciences, the Wolf Prize for Agriculture in 2010 and the 2012 Balzan Prize. He was knighted in June 2009.  Sir David’s interests center on gene silencing and epigenetics – the science of how nurture can influence nature. These topics link to disease resistance in plants and understanding of hybrids including hybrid crops. He is also interested in the application of science to develop sustainable agriculture. He is a member of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and in 2009 he chaired a Royal Society policy study on the contribution of biological science to food crop productivity.

Professor James Carrington

Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Prof. James C. Carrington joined the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center as president in 2011.  Previously he served as the Director of the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing, the Stewart Professor for Gene Research, and Distinguished Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State University.  He received his doctorate in Plant Pathology from the University of California, Berkeley, and began his prominent career as a professor in the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University, where he stayed for nine years. Dr. Carrington also served on the faculty at Washington State University before his tenure at OSU. His awards include the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation, the Ruth Allen Award from the American Society for Phytopathology and the Humboldt Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He has been elected a Member of the National Academies of Science and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Phytopathological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Professor Jeff Dangl

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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Prof. Jeff Dangl is currently a HHMI-GBMF Plant Science Investigator.  He is also the John N. Couch Professor of Biology and a member of the UNC Curriculum in Genetics.  He received dual Bachelor’s degrees in Biology and English (Modern Literature) form Stanford University in 1981.  He received his Ph.D. in 1986 for work concerning structure-function relationships among of chimaeric monoclonal antibodies from the Genetics Department of the Stanford Medical School.  In 1986, Dr. Dangl was awarded an NSF Plant Biology Fellowship to pursue post-doctoral research at the Max Planck Institute of Plant Breeding in Cologne, Germany, in the department of Prof. Klaus Hahlbrock.  In 1989, he began his own group at the Max Delbrück Laboratory, also in Cologne.  In 1995, the Dangl lab moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The Dangl lab has contributed significantly to the use of Arabidopsis genetics as a tool to analyze plant-pathogen interactions.  Dr. Dangl is an elected member of the US National Academy of Sciences (2007) and the German Academy of Sciences (“Die Leopoldina”, 2003).  He is a past member of the National Research Council’s Board of Life Sciences  and is a past member of the North American Arabidopsis Steering Committee (elected) and the NSF ‘Eukaryotic Genetics’ and NIH ‘Genetics, Variation and Evolution’ grant panels. He currently a member of the reviewing editorial boards of Science, Cell, PNAS and PLoS Biology and served as co-Editor in Chief of Current Opinions in Plant Biology. Research in the Dangl lab is funded by HHMI-GBMF NIH, NSF, and DOE.

Dr. Jeff Ellis

CSIRO Plant Industry

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Dr. Jeff Ellis leads a research group in CSIRO Plant Industry, Australia that was among the first to clone and characterize plant disease resistance genes and describe their products as a new class of nucleotide binding site-leucine rich repeat proteins.  His laboratory developed the Activator tagging system for cloning of the L6 and M rust resistance genes in flax in 1994 and 1997.  L6 was one of the first cloned R genes. Since this time, the group has isolated a number of further genes that control other rust resistance specificities and have investigated the molecular basis of gene-for-gene resistance specificity through the study of chimeric L alleles in transgenic flax, showing that the leucine-rich repeat region is the main player.  Dr. Ellis and his research team remain one of the leading laboratories in plant disease resistance research and this team has recently isolated and characterized the flax rust avirulence genes that correspond to the flax L5, L6 L7 and M resistance genes and using yeast two hybrid analysis, demonstrated that there is direct interaction between L6 and AvrL567 proteins.  In addition to working with the model flax-flax rust system and the fundamental basis of rust resistance, the Ellis group has a strong grains industry focus on the delivery of improved rust resistance in wheat through increased efficiency of resistance breeding based on gene cloning and transfer and DNA marker technology.  Dr. Ellis was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in May, 2009.

Professor Jonathan D. G. Jones

The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich

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Prof. Jonathan D G Jones FRS is a leading researcher in plant/microbe interactions.  He graduated in Botany from the Cambridge Natural Sciences tripos (1976) and completed his Ph.D. on cereal chromosomes supervised by Dick Flavell at the Plant Breeding Institute, Trumpington, in 1980.  Dr. Jones was a postdoctoral fellow with Fred Ausubel at Harvard University in 1981 and 1982, working on symbiotic nitrogen fixation.  From 1983-1988, he worked in the private sector at a startup agbiotech company (Advanced Genetic Sciences, Oakland, California) founded to exploit new developments in molecular biology for crop improvement.  In 1988, he moved to the UK to be one of the first recruits at The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich.  He has published landmark papers on plant resistance genes and mechanisms, and on investigating the effector complements of the oomycete pathogens Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis and Albugo candida using next-generation sequencing methods.  He also pioneers innovative methods to accelerate cloning and deployment of novel genes for resistance to , the potato late blight pathogen. Dr. Jones has co-founded 2 companies; Mendel Biotechnology, founded in 1997 to carry out genomics experiments to discover and exploit key regulators of crop productivity, and Norfolk Plant Sciences Ltd, to combine health promoting traits and disease resistance traits in potato and tomato.  Dr. Jones was elected a Professor at the University of East Anglia in 1997, a member of EMBO in 1998, Fellow of the Royal Society in 2003, and Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2015.  He has participated in several Royal Society working groups on food security.

Professor Sophien Kamoun

The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich

Prof. Sophien Kamoun joined The Sainsbury Laboratory in 2007 and served as Head of Laboratory in 2009-2014. Dr. Kamoun received his B.S. degree from Pierre and Marie Curie University, and his Ph.D. in Genetics from the University of California at Davis in 1991. He then was a postdoctoral fellow at the NSF Center for Engineering Plants for Resistance Against Pathogens, UC Davis, and at the Department of Phytopathology, Wageningen University, Netherlands. From 1998-2007, Dr. Kamoun carried out research on oomycete molecular genetics on the faculty at the Ohio State University, Department of Plant Pathology, Wooster campus. At the Sainsbury Laboratory, Dr. Kamoun continues to exploit genomics resources to improve understanding of plant pathosystems, unravel novel processes and concepts in plant-microbe interactions, and devise original disease management strategies based on the gained knowledge. Throughout his career, Dr. Kamoun made a number of significant contributions to the science of molecular plant pathology. He pioneered the use of functional genomics strategies that link plant pathogen sequences to phenotypes and is credited with discovering several effector families from pathogenic oomycetes. Dr. Kamoun has also led community efforts to sequence and analyze the genome of the Irish potato famine pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, and continues to be actively involved in a variety of pathogenomics projects. His work on oomycete effector biology and pathogenomics has resulted in new approaches to breeding disease resistant crops. Dr. Kamoun received the American Phytopathological Society Syngenta Award in 2003, the Ohio State University Pomerene Teaching Award in 2004, the WE. Krauss Award for Excellence in Graduate Research Mentorship in 2006, the Daiwa Adrian Prize in 2010, and the American Phytopathological Society Noel Keen Award in 2013. He was elected to the Academia Europaea in 2011, EMBO in 2015, received a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Investigator Award in 2011, and is a Thomson Reuters 2014/2015 Highly Cited Researcher.

Professor Dr. Paul Schulze-Lefert

Max-Planck-Institut für Züchtungsforschung (MPIZ), Cologne

Prof. Dr. Paul Schulze-Lefert was trained in biochemistry and genetics at Marburg, Freiburg, and Cologne Universities, Germany.  After a Ph.D. thesis on cis-and trans-active factors regulating plant gene expression in response to light, he became interested in fundamental processes controlling plant microbe interactions.  Major research areas are the innate immune system of plants and functions of the plant microbiota.  Dr. Schulze-Lefert worked from 1989 to 1990 as postdoctoral fellow in Francesco Salamini’s department at the MPIZ Cologne on the development of DNA marker technologies in plant genomes.  In 1991 he started his own research group at the RWTH Aachen with a focus on plant disease resistance mechanisms to fungal pathogens.  From 1995 to 2000, he held a senior research position and supervised a research team in the Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre, England.  Since 2000 he is head of the Department of Plant Microbe Interactions at the Max-Planck-Institut für Züchtungsforschung (MPIZ), Cologne, and Honorary Professor at the University of Cologne since 2003.  Dr. Schulze-Lefert is an elected EMBO member since 2006.  In 2010 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, USA, and to the “Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina”, Germany.  He was elected Fellow to the American Academy of Microbiology in 2011.  Much of his current work is dedicated to bridging traditional research areas like genetics, biochemistry, and cell biology in the endeavor of increasing our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that control plant microbe interactions. 

Professor Brian J. Staskawicz

University of California, Berkeley

Prof. Brian John Staskawicz, Ph.D. is the Maxine J. Elliot Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Staskawicz received his Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley, M.S. from Yale University and B.A. from Bates College.  Dr. Staskawicz is recognized as a world leading plant molecular pathologist.  His contributions include cloning the first bacterial effector gene and plant disease resistant genes.  His current work involves elucidation of the molecular basis of plant innate immunity in both the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and the agronomically important plants.  A major focus in the laboratory currently involves employing genomic strategies including gene editing to engineer durable disease resistance in several crops species. He was elected a member of National Academy of Sciences in 1998 and is a Fellow of the American Phytopathological Society and American Academy of Microbiology.  Dr. Staskawicz is the recipient of a number of awards, including being named a Fulbright Scholar in 1991, the American Phytopathological Society’s Ruth Allen Award in 1995, the U.S.D.A. Honors Award in 1995, American Phytopathological Society’s Noel T. Keen Award for Excellence in Molecular Plant Pathology in 2004 and  received a Doctor Honoris Causa, Wageningen University in 2013. Dr. Staskawicz serves as an external advisor to the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich.  He also serves as an editor for P.N.A.S., Cell Host-Microbe.

Professor Cyril Zipfel

The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich

2Blades SAB

Prof. Cyril Zipfel is the Head of The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich (UK) and holds the Chair of Plant Immunology at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (UK). After performing his doctoral and post-doctoral research in the laboratories of Profs. Thomas Boller (Friedrich-Mischer Institute and University of Basel, Switzerland) and Jonathan Jones (The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, UK), respectively, he started his independent group at The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich (UK) in 2007. He is a pioneer and leader in the field of plant innate immunity. His work is focused on understanding the molecular basis of plant innate immunity mediated by surface-localized immune receptors. In addition, his work has created opportunities for improving disease resistance in crops, resulting in significant interest from the crop genetics and seed industries. He was awarded a competitive European Research Council Starting grant in 2012, is a Highly Cited Researcher (2014, 2015), and was awarded the prestigious Charles Albert Shull Award from the American Society of Plant Biologists in 2015. He also currently serves as editor for the journals Science Signaling, PLoS Pathogens, Annual Review of Plant Biology, and Molecular Plant Pathology.