Christopher Dixon

Department of Biosciences Durham University Stockton Road Durham DH1 3LE


Dr Martin Cann

I’m a PhD student at Durham University interested in the biochemistry of NB-LRR family plant resistance proteins. Resistance proteins are hypothesized to act as molecular switches, detecting pathogen effector proteins within a plant cell then switching ‘on’ to signal the activation of the immune response. Resistance proteins are characterised by their constituent domains. The C-terminal LRR domain is hypothesized to be involved in the detection of the pathogen effector protein. The central NB-ARC domain is hypothesized to use ATP hydrolysis to regulate a conformational change to switch the protein between an active and inactive state. However, the exact mode of action of these proteins remains poorly understood and I am interested in clarifying the specific signalling processes activated by these proteins.

Project title: The Structure and Function of the Plant Resistance Protein Rx

I am attempting to produce the potato resistance protein Rx as a recombinant protein in vitro and determine its mode of action. Rx is an important model resistance protein which detects a viral coat protein in mediating the immune response to potato virus X. I will characterise the biochemistry of the protein, especially with regards to its structure-function relationship. We are looking to investigate the structure of the protein through the use of techniques such as X-ray crystallography and Small angle x-ray scattering. We will also use complementary biophysical techniques including time resolved FRET and fluorescence anisotropy to investigate interactions between Rx and target molecules in the immune signalling response.

Where did I get my PIPs

PIPS Internship Organisation Name 

Tozer Seeds


Cobham, Surrey

When deciding on your internship, what did you want to experience and what did you hope to gain from that experience?

I wanted to experience the difference in the working environments of industry research and academia. I also wanted to see a new area of research and gain a better understanding of it.

Did you get the experience you were expecting and did you achieve the personal development you had hoped to make? 

Working in a small informal company resembled academia far more than I expected.  I realised that 'industry' covers a large range of working environments rather than one particular style.  I did learn a lot of things about a new industry (seed breeding) that I had never worked around before. 

Has the internship made you feel differently about potential career options and has it helped to put the skills from research into a broader context?

No.  I considered research in both academia and industry as potential career options before my internship and still do.  I enjoyed my time there but nothing made me feel that industry would be a better choice.  I still consider the progress of the next 2 years of my PhD more important in determining my suitability for either.


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