skip to content

Sainsbury Laboratory


Research Interests

I obtained my PhD in Molecular Biology at Wageningen University (Netherlands) in the area of Plant Microbe Interactions. In the laboratory of Prof. T. Bisseling, I studied molecular mechanisms of rhizobia accommodation and the adaptation of the host cell endomembrane system in Medicago truncatula root nodules. During my first postdoc with Assoc. Prof. P. Smith at University of Sydney I worked on a proteomics-based project investigating a repertoire of symbiosome membrane transporters and their role in soybean root nodule development. Since 2015 I have worked with Dr. Sebastian Schornack at Sainsbury Laboratory. I am studying plant developmental processes that are employed by both beneficial and pathogenic microorganisms to support colonization and their overlapping molecular-genetic mechanisms.

My overall research aim is to identify molecular mechanisms that underlie the development of plant interactions with symbionts and pathogens using a comparative approach. Studying legumes and their associated symbionts and the filamentous pathogens led me to the hypothesis that symbiotic relationships can arise from common plant-pathogen interactions through the coevolution of two organisms eventually resulting in a mutually beneficial interaction. Therefore, some genes supporting symbiosis may be derived from ancestral defence genes through gene duplication and subsequent neofunctionalisation, where one version maintained the ancestral function, and another specialized into symbiosis development. Examples of such gene divergence can be found among different proteins in diverse cellular processes (receptors, endomembrane markers, hydrolytic enzymes, etc.) as described in Gavrin and Schornack (2019). On a bigger scale, plant-microbe associations with opposite outcomes may have common molecular components and mechanisms. These mechanisms can have a shared origin that first evolved for functions in ancient plant-pathogen interactions and later was co-opted for symbiosis evolvement.

Partial phylogenetic tree of Medicago a β-glucan-binding protein (GBP) gene family.

Expression pattern of MtGBP1 and MtGBP6 upon inoculation with symbiotic rhizobia Sinorhizobium meliloti and necrotrophic fungal pathogen Botrytis Cinerea, respectively.


Key Publications

1.  A. Gavrin, et al., Developmental Modulation of Root Cell Wall Architecture Confers Resistance to an Oomycete Pathogen. Curr. Biol. (2020).

2.  A. Gavrin, S. Schornack, Medicago truncatula as a model organism to study conserved and contrasting aspects of symbiotic and pathogenic signaling pathways. Model Legum. Medicago truncatula, 317–330 (2020).

3.  A. Gavrin, et al., Soybean Yellow Stripe-like7 is a symbiosome membrane peptide transporter essential for nitrogen fixation. bioRxiv, 2020.03.27.011973. Submitted to Plant Physiol. (2020).

4.  A. Gavrin, O. Kulikova, T. Bisseling, E. E. Fedorova, Interface Symbiotic Membrane Formation in Root Nodules of Medicago truncatula: the Role of Synaptotagmins MtSyt1, MtSyt2 and MtSyt3   . Front. Plant Sci.   8, 201 (2017).

5.  A. Gavrin, et al., VAMP721a and VAMP721d are important for pectin dynamics and release of bacteria in soybean nodules. New Phytol. 210, 1011–1021 (2016).

6.  A. Gavrin, V. Jansen, S. Ivanov, T. Bisseling, E. Fedorova, ARP2/3-Mediated Actin Nucleation Associated With Symbiosome Membrane Is Essential for the Development of Symbiosomes in Infected Cells of Medicago truncatula Root Nodules. Mol. Plant-Microbe Interact. 28, 605–614 (2015).

 7.  A. Gavrin, et al., Adjustment of Host Cells for Accommodation of Symbiotic Bacteria: Vacuole Defunctionalization, HOPS Suppression, and TIP1g Retargeting in Medicago. Plant Cell 26, 3809 LP – 3822 (2014).


Research Associate
Dr Aleksandr  Gavrin

Contact Details

Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge
47 Bateman Street