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Barbara J. Howlett

Academic Profile

We study fungal diseases of the oilseed crop canola (Brassica napus), an important Australian industry, in terms of both export income and as a break crop controlling root diseases of cereals. The fungus Leptosphaeria maculans causes blackleg, the major disease of canola world wide (Life cycle).  We are applying molecular genetic techniques to the blackleg fungus with the overall objective of developing improved strategies for control of this important disease.


Our research is funded by the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation.

Our activities include:

  • monitoring virulence of populations of the blackleg fungus and developing strategies to deploy durable blackleg resistance in canola cultivars, with Dr Steve Marcroft, Marcroft Grains Pathology, Horsham and Dr Phil Salisbury, Melbourne School of Land and Environment, The University of Melbourne
  • mining the genome of the blackleg fungus to identify genes involved in disease. Features of the genome sequence are described in Nature Communications
  • identifying fungal effectors and other disease determinants in L. maculans and a closely related species L. biglobosa 'canadensis'.
  • characterising secondary metabolite gene clusters in the blackleg fungus
  • developing tools for understanding pathogenicity mechanisms of another important fungal pathogen of canola, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum.


We are also studying the systematic and conservation genetics of the ectomycomyrhizal fungus, Laccaria, in collaboration with Dr Tom May, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne



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