Institute of Plant Genetics
Polish Academy of Sciences

Plant-Pathogen Interaction

Plant-Pathogen Interaction Team


prof.dr hab. Łukasz Stępień


dr inż. Monika Urbaniak

mgr Maria Kwiatkowska

mgr Elsie Ayamoh Enow (PhD student)


From left to right: Ł. Stępień, M. Kwiatkowska, E. Ayamoh Enow, M. Urbaniak

Research profile

Research topics of the Team are focused on the biochemical and molecular characteristics of the saprobiotic and plant-pathogenic mycotoxin-producing fungi (mainly from Fusarium genus), isolated from agriculturally important crops (like wheat, maize, asparagus, garlic etc.).

Experiments are aimed at revealing the genetic basis of mycotoxin biosynthesis by strains of different species as well as molecular factors affecting the activity of the metabolic pathways. Molecular identification and characterization of plant- and entomopathogenic fungi is the basic area of interest. Then, based on the DNA sequence analyses, we are able to reconstruct the phylogeny of individual species, also using genes involved in secondary metabolism. Analysis of Fusarium toxigenic abilities, quantification of mycotoxins produced in vitro and detection of the biosynthetic genes from the respective metabolic pathways are also being done. Evaluation of the cell wall-degrading enzymes’ activities presented by the pathogenic fungi and respective genes’ expression studies help to understand the differences in pathogenicity of individual genotypes.

Moreover, the mechanisms of bioactive compounds biotransformation by entomopathogenic fungi are being studied to evaluate their availability for biotechnological applications. Kinetics of Fusarium mycotoxins biotransformation by fungal strains/enzymes in cultures is also being done.

Methods used include isolation and purification of fungal strains from environmental samples, microscopic analysis and taxonomic characteristics, extraction of genomic DNA and the total RNA, synthesis of cDNA, PCR and RT-qPCR, molecular analysis of RAPD, SCAR, AFLP, SSR and phylogenetic markers, DNA fragment cloning and sequencing, biochemical analyses of enzymes activities, quantification of mycotoxins produced in vitro and in planta using UPLC and HPLC-MS.

Our main achievements include the insight into the inter- and intraspecific diversity of mycotoxin-producing Fusarium species, based on the analysis of the secondary metabolic gene clusters, identifying the Trichoderma fungi capable of mycotoxin biotransformation, proposing a model of the evolution of the beauvericin and enniatin biosynthetic gene cluster from Fusarium, Trichoderma and Beauveria fungi. We also identified a number of plant bioactive metabolites that are responsible for triggering Fusarium stress response to abiotic and biotic factors. Currently we are focused on investigating the details of the Fusarium-Asparagus interaction using metabolomic and molecular approaches.


Key words

Entomopathogenic fungi, fungal pathogens, Fusarium, gene expression, genetic diversity, mycotoxins, plant-pathogen interaction


Selected recent publications (See all in Scopus)

Urbaniak M., Waśkiewicz A., Koczyk G., Błaszczyk L., Stępień Ł. (2020). Divergence of beauvericin synthase gene among Fusarium and Trichoderma species. Journal of Fungi, 6: 288.

Kulesza K., Biedunkiewicz A., Nowacka K., Dynowska M., Urbaniak M, Stępień Ł. (2021). Dishwashers as an extreme environment of potentially pathogenic yeast species. Pathogens, 10, 446.

Stępień Ł., Lalak-Kańczugowska J. (2021). Signaling pathways involved in virulence and stress response of plant pathogenic Fusarium species. Fungal Biology Reviews, 35, 27-39.

Manawasinghe I.S., Phillips A.J.L., Xu J., Balasuriya A., Hyde K.D., Stępień Ł., Harishchandra D.L., Karunarathna A., Yan J., Weerasinghe J., Mei L., Dong Z., Cheewangkoon R. (2021). Defining a species in plant pathology: beyond the species level. Fungal Diversity, DOI: 10.1007/s13225-021-00481-x.

Perincherry L., Urbaniak M., Pawłowicz I., Kotowska K., Waśkiewicz A., Stępień Ł. (2021). Dynamics of Fusarium Mycotoxins and Lytic Enzymes during Pea Plants’ Infection. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22, 9888.

Perincherry L., Stępień Ł., Vasudevan S.E. (2021). Cross-tolerance and autoimmunity – a missing link in abiotic and biotic stress responses in plants; A perspective towards secondary metabolic engineering. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22, 11945.

Perincherry L., Witaszak N., Urbaniak M., Waśkiewicz A., Stępień Ł. (2021). Effects of secondary metabolites from pea on Fusarium growth and mycotoxin biosynthesis. Journal of Fungi, 7, 1004.

Brizuela A.M., Lalak-Kańczugowska J., Koczyk G., Stępień Ł., Kawaliło M., Palmero D. (2021). Geographical Origin Does Not Modulate Pathogenicity or Response to Climatic Variables of Fusarium oxysporum Associated with Vascular Wilt on Asparagus. Journal of Fungi, 7, 1056.

Bryła M., Stępniewska S., Modrzewska M., Waśkiewicz A., Podolska G., Ksieniewicz-Woźniak E., Yoshinari T., Stępień Ł., Urbaniak M., Roszko M., Gwiazdowski R., Kanabus J., Pierzgalski A. (2022). Dynamics of deoxynivalenol and nivalenol glucosylation in wheat cultivars infected with Fusarium culmorum in the field conditions – a three years study (2018-2020), Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 70, 14, 4291-4302.

Badr A.N., Stępień Ł., Drzewiecka K., Alharithi S.S., Selim K., Abdel-Razek A.G. (2022). Synergistic impact of Bioactive Byproduct Extract Leads to Anti-Fusarium and anti-mycotoxin secretion. Journal of Fungi, 8, 30.

Uwineza P.A., Urbaniak M., Bryła M., Stępień Ł., Modrzewska M., Waśkiewicz A. (2022). In vitro Effects of Lemon Balm Extracts in Reducing the Growth and Mycotoxins Biosynthesis of Fusarium culmorum and F. proliferatum. Toxins 14(5): 355,

Waśkiewicz A., Muzolf-Panek M., Stępień Ł., Czembor E., Uwineza P.A., Górnaś P., Bryła M. (2022). Variation in tocochromanols level and mycotoxins content in sweet maize cultivars after inoculation with Fusarium verticillioides and F. proliferatum. Foods 11: 2781.

Modrzewska M., Błaszczyk L., Stępień Ł., Urbaniak M., Waśkiewicz A., Yoshinari T., Bryła M. (2022). Trichoderma versus Fusarium – inhibition of pathogen growth and mycotoxins synthesis. Molecules. 27(23): 8146. DOI: 10.3390/molecules27238146.

Bryła M., Damaziak K., Twarużek M., Waśkiewicz A., Stępień Ł., Roszko M., Pierzgalski A., Soszczyńska E., Łukasiewicz-Mierzejewska M., Chmiel M., Wójcik W. (2023). Toxico-pathological effects of ochratoxin A and its diastereoisomer under in ovo conditions and in vitro evaluation of the toxicity of these toxins against the embryo Gallus gallus fibroblast cell line. Poultry Science. 102(2): 102413. DOI: 10.1016/j.psj.2022.102413.

Lalak-Kańczugowska J., Witaszak N., Waśkiewicz A., Bocianowski J., Stępień Ł. (2023). Plant metabolites affect Fusarium proliferatum growth and in vitro fumonisin biosynthesis. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 24(3): 3002. DOI: 10.3390/ijms24033002.

Błaszczyk L., Ćwiek-Kupczyńska H., Hoppe (Gromadzka) K., Basińska-Barczak A., Stępień Ł., Kaczmarek J., Lenc L. (2023). Containment of Fusarium culmorum and its mycotoxins in various biological systems by antagonistic Trichoderma and Clonostachys strains. Journal of Fungi, 9: 289.

Tronina T., Łużny M., Dymarska M., Urbaniak M., Kozłowska E., Piegza M., Stępień Ł., Janeczko T. (2023). Glycosylation of quercetin by selected entomopathogenic filamentous fungi and prediction of its products bioactivity. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 24(14), 11857;  


Projects (finished recently or current)


National Science Center

Type Project number (link to NCN) Project title in Polish Project title in English Project leader / partners Financing (PLN) Start date End date
Opus 22 2021/43/B/NZ9/02701 Specyficzność regulacji interakcji Fusarium-szparag przez metabolity i hormony gospodarza wytwarzane podczas infekcji Specificity of the regulation of Fusarium-asparagus interaction by host metabolites and hormones produced during infection process Łukasz Stępień 1 875 750 27-06-2022 26-06-2026
OPUS; edycja 9 2015/17/B/NZ9/03577 Roślinne związki bioaktywne indukujące odpowiedź na stres u patogenicznego grzyba Fusarium proliferatum Plant bioactive compounds inducing the stress response in the pathogenic fungus Fusarium proliferatum Łukasz Stępień 582 600 18-01-2016 2019-07-17
OPUS 13 2017/25/B/NZ9/01210 Role enzymów litycznych i mykotoksyn wytwarzanych przez grzyby Fusarium w procesie patogenezy, oraz metabolitów odpowiedzialnych za odpowiedź obronną roślin Functions of Fusarium-produced lytic enzymes and mycotoxins in pathogenesis
and of metabolites responsible for plant defence response
Łukasz Stępień 728 650 09-02-2018 08-12-2022
PRELUDIUM 13 2017/25/N/NZ9/02525 Zmienność potencjału biosyntezy depsipeptydów pod wpływem czynników regulacyjnych wśród przedstawicieli fito- i entomopatogenów u Hypocreales Variability of depsipeptide biosynthetic potential, as influenced by regulatory factors, among divergent phyto- and entomopathogenic Hypocreales Monika Urbaniak   2/21/2018 2/20/2021




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