Garry Sunter

Research Interests

The Sunter laboratory explores aspects of host-pathogen interactions using geminiviruses. Geminiviruses are a significant threat to food security worldwide and current control measures include limiting vector populations using pesticides, which is a significant health concern, as pesticides work by disrupting nervous system function. Our work has potential implications in the development of alternative ways to reduce the incidence of geminivirus disease.

Ongoing studies in the lab focus on

  • Analysis of the epigenetic state of viral chromatin state. Geminiviruses are single-stranded DNA viruses, which replicate through double-stranded DNA intermediates that associate with host histones to form viral mini-chromosomes. Regulation of viral transcription by host systems involved in DNA and histone methylation are of particular interest.
  • Given the small size of the geminivirus genome (~3kbp), the virus has to utilize/highjack host transcription factors to mediate the expression of viral genes. We have identified three factors to date and are currently characterizing their interactions with the viral genome.
  • Geminiviruses are subject to numerous host immune responses that act to reduce infection. My lab is studying two of these pathways, Transcriptional Gene RNA silencing (TGS) and autophagy, to understand how they target the virus and the mechanisms geminiviruses utilize to circumvent and/or avoid them.
  • Network discovery to increase understanding of plant immunity and to identify key regulatory points that determine infection outcome.

Training Opportunities

The lab utilizes model plants, Arabidopsis and Tobacco, as well as agriculturally relevant crops (Tomato, Sugar Beet and Spinach), as genetic models to study host-pathogen interactions, such as transcriptional regulation, transcriptional and post-transcriptional gene silencing (RNAi) and host immunity.

We use multidisciplinary approaches that include cell and molecular biology, genomics, bioinformatics and computational analysis. Skills developed in the lab involve cell culture, DNA/RNA and protein purification, fluorescence and confocal microscopy, RNASeq, gene expression studies and mutational analysis. Trainees are introduced to the design and conduct of experiments and statistical approaches for data analysis.

Active Projects

  • Developing tools and databases for network-based plant systems biology with applications to understanding plant-virus interactions.
  • Determining the role of a host transcription factor (TCP) in regulating geminivirus promoter activity
  • Characterizing the impact of a viral RNA silencing suppressor on autophagy
  • Developing technology to improve the health of vulnerable plants by creating a rapid response to various conditions that can impact plant productivity, such as drought, disease and environmental stress.

Representative Publications and Funding

  • Chung H-Y, Sunter G (2014) Interaction between the transcription factor AtTIFY4B and begomovirus AL2 protein impacts pathogenicity. Plant Mol. Biol. 86:185- 200.
  • Chung HY, Lacatus G, Sunter G (2014) Geminivirus AL2 protein induces expression of, and interacts with, a calmodulin-like gene, an endogenous regulator of gene silencing. Virology 460–461 (0):108-118.
  • Liu, L., Chung, H-Y., Lacatus, G., Baliji, S., Ruan, J., Sunter, G (2014) Altered expression of Arabidopsis genes in response to a multifunctional geminivirus pathogenicity protein. BMC Plant Biology. 14:30.
  • Liu, L., Chung, H-Y., Lacatus, G., Baliji, S., Ruan, J., Sunter, G (2014) Altered expression of Arabidopsis genes in response to a multifunctional geminivirus pathogenicity protein. BMC Plant Biology. 14:30.
  • Qian, Y., Hou, H., Shen, Q., Cai, X., Sunter, G., Zhou, X. (2016) RepA Protein Encoded by Oat dwarf virus Elicits a Temperature-Sensitive Hypersensitive Response–Type Cell Death That Involves Jasmonic Acid–Dependent Signaling. Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions. 29: 5-21.
  • Zand, M., Goa, Z., Wei, J., Sunter, G. and Ruan, J (2018) An integrative approach to transcriptional co-regulatory network construction and characterization in Arabidopsis. 2018 IEEE 8th International Conference on Computational Advances in Bio and medical Sciences (ICCABS).
  • Mei, Y., Wang, Y., Hu, T., Lozano-Duran, R., Sunter, G. Zhou, X. (2018) Nucleocytoplasmic Shuttling of Geminivirus C4 Protein Mediated by Phosphorylation and Myristoylation Is Critical for Viral Pathogenicity. Mol Plant 11: 1466-1481.
  • Yang, X., Guo, W., Li, F., Sunter, G and Zhou, X (2019) The geminivirus betasatellite: exploiting chinks in the plant's antiviral armor. Journal of Virology.

View additional publications


Garry Sunter
Professor and Department Chair
MO 350 (office)
MO 322 (lab)

Current Post-Doctoral Fellows

  • Alba Nava Ferreira
  • Natalia Lucinda Pacheco Chaves


  • Ph.D., Plant Pathology, Imperial College, University of London
  • B.Sc., Pure and Applied Biology, Chelsea College, University of London