Dr Helen Cockerton

Dr Helen Cockerton
Research Leader – Quantitative Geneticist & Plant Pathologist

Research interests

Helen's interests focus on understanding the genetic control of plant-microbe interactions and desirable plant traits. With current work investigating the use of inter-kingdom RNAi to study the infection process of Verticillium in raspberry. Her team is also interested in identifying resistance loci to Verticillium nonalfalfae in hop and discriminating virulence factors which may provide race specific diagnostics. Past work on Verticillium wilt in strawberry has included the use novel imaging techniques to obtain objective phenotyping data, which, in conjunction with genotypic information has allowed the identification of disease resistance loci.

Helen also works on Podosphaera aphanis an obligate pathogen causing powdery mildew of strawberry. So far, research has generated genomic resources for the pathogen and identified a range of stable and transient resistant QTL in the host. Future work will investigate tissue-specific resistance and expand the resources available for this pathosystem. This work will allow a better understanding of the plant-pathogen interaction and assist the control of powdery mildew.

Her recent work has focused on quantifying genetic components controlling fruit quality, flowering habit and genetic associations between root architectural traits, phosphorus use efficiency and arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis in strawberry. Ultimately, this pre-breeding work is being translated into breeding programmes through Helen's work implementing advanced breeding techniques including marker assisted breeding and genomic selection.

Research projects

21st Century Hop Breeding: Duration: Jan 2019-Jan 2022; Partners: NIAB EMR, University of Reading; Funding: CTP- BBSRC

Tissue Specific Powdery Mildew Resistance in Strawberry: Duration: Oct 2019-Sept 2023; Partners: NIAB EMR, University of Reading; Funding: CTP- BBSRC

How do light and temperature affect lifecycle, development and pathogenicity in Verticillium? Duration: July 2018-Jun 2021; Partners: NIAB (lead); Funding: BB/R008191/1

UV - ROBOT - Innovative UV-robotics to improve existing IPM strategies and to benefit farmers, consumers and the environment: Duration: 2017-2021; Partners:  Proefcentrum Hoogstraten (lead) Proefstation-voor-de-groenteteelt, Octinion, STC Reasearch Foundation, CESI, Roboscientific Ltd, Comité d’action Technique et Economique, Comité Départemental de Développement Maraîche, NIAB EMR; Funding: INTTEREG


Recent publications

Cockerton, H.M., Vickerstaff, R.J., Karlstrӧm, A., Wilson, F., Sobczyk, M., He, J.Q. (2018). Identification of powdery mildew resistance QTL in strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa). Theoretical and Applied Genetics, 131(9), pp. 1995-2007.

Cockerton, H. M., Li, B., Vickerstaff, R. J., Eyre, C. A., Sargent, D. J., Armitage, A. D. (2019). Identifying Verticillium dahliae Resistance in Strawberry Through Disease Screening of Multiple Populations and Image Based Phenotyping. Frontiers in plant science, 10, 924.

Fan, R., Cockerton, H.M., Armitage, A.D., Bate, H., Cascant-Lopez, E., Antanaviciute, L. (2018). Vegetative compatibility groups partition variation in the virulence of Verticillium dahliae on strawberry. PLoS One. 13(2), e0191824.

Armitage, A. D., Cockerton, H. M., Sreenivasaprasad, S., Woodhall, J., Lane, C., Harrison, R. J., & Clarkson, J. P. (2019). Genomics, evolutionary history and diagnostics of the Alternaria alternata species group including apple and Asian pear pathotypes. bioRxiv, 534685.