Personal profile


Current Position:

Dr Robert Coutts is a Research Fellow and Visiting Lecturer at Department of Life and Medical Sciences, GEA, University of Hertfordshire (UH), Hatfield. 

Dr Coutts is an internationally recognised molecular virologist who specializes in investigating the replication of mycoviruses and plant viruses.


Previous Position:

Reader, Distinguished Research Fellow and Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow at The Department of Biology, Imperial College London (ICL) 1976-until April 2015.



Teaching specialisms

Posts held

Research Fellow, University of Hertfordshire (2014-Present)

Visiting Lecturer, University of Hertfordshire (2013-Present)

Leverhulme Trust Emeritus Research Fellow (2013-2015)

Distinguished Research Fellow, Imperial College (2011-2014)

Reader in Molecular Plant Virology, Imperial College (1997-2011)

Senior Lecturer in Virology, Imperial College (1988-1997)

Lecturer in Plant Virology and Microbiology (1976-1988)

Leverhulme Trust supported Post-doctoral research worker (1973-1976)


Management of staff and supervision of PhD students

He has managed more than 30 post-docs and more than 30 other graduate staff, and supervised more than 35 PhD students since 1977. These staff and students have come from the UK, China, France, India, Greece, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana, Brazil, Nepal, Korea, Thailand and Turkey. These have included staff or students who have gone on to senior management positions in research institutes (e.g. rector of Ghana University) and funders (e.g. DEFRA) and others who have published papers in high profile journals.


Current grants and responsibilities

1. Joint supervision with Professor Martin Buck FRS of visiting scientist Dr Ioly Kotta-Loizou at ICL investigating the virome of the entamophageous fungus Beauveria bassiana and RNA-binding by mycovirus proteins.

2. Individual research at UH on gene silencing in fungi supported by Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship.

3. Group research on the effects of mycoviruses on the pathogenicity of entomophageous fungi supported by the Steel Charitable Trust and The UH Diamond Fund.

4. Research work at John Innes Institute on BBSRC grant ’Testing novel anti-viral strategies in plants’’ awarded July 2014-2017 see below.

5. Supervision of PhD student Unnati Shah at UH-3rd year student.


Research interests


While viruses have long been recognised as important components of all biosystems, viruses of fungi (mycoviruses) have been largely ignored and, apart from a few notable exceptions, their roles in fungi are largely unknown. Following on from studies on the molecular characterisation of a number of mycoviruses found in plant pathogenic fungi (1, 5), saprophytic Aspergilli (2, 8, 9, 13) and entamophageous fungi (12) we are concentrating our investigations on Aspergillus fumigatus.

The filamentous fungus Aspergillus fumigatus is the world’s leading cause of mould-related fatality, mostly resulting from invasive pulmonary aspergillosis in immune-deficient patients. The pathogen also provokes severe allergic disease in asthmatics, and colonises cystic fibrosis patients, therefore posing a significant clinical burden. We have screened >350 clinical and environmental isolates of Aspergillus fumigatus and discovered that they harbour at least three dsRNA mycoviruses (7). Whilst dsRNA elements have been described in other members of the Aspergilli this is the first report of the existence of dsRNA elements in this clinically important species.

We do not know the role or function of these mycoviruses in the fitness or pathology of Aspergillus fumigatus (4) and to understand more of these aspects we have cloned and sequenced the dsRNA genomes of three viral genomes, in an effort to determine relationships with known mycoviruses and to investigate if the elements are ubiquitous in other clinical isolates of the fungus (3, 4, 16). In terms of human pathogenicity we have recently developed moth larvae assays to replace the murine model (15). We intend to construct and use full-length clones of these mycoviruses for use in gene silencing technology which is currently under developed in fungi. We are also characterising in detail the proteins involved in gene silencing in Aspergillus fumigatus and analysing its small RNA transcriptome and small interspersed nuclear elements (SINEs), which we also intend to use in the construction of gene silencing vectors.

In new projects we have screened a large panel of isolates of Leptosphaeria maculans and L. biglobosa, the fungi responsible for 'stem canker' or 'blackleg' of the biofuel crop oilseed rape, for the presence of mycoviruses for potential use in the control of the disease which has emerged in the British Isles as a major crop threat. We are in the process of fully sequencing one novel quadripartite dsRNA mycovirus we have isolated from L.biglibosa and accessing suspected hypervirulence and its effects of fungal pathogenicity. Similarly we have also screened a large panel of UK isolates of Dothistroma septosporum, the causal agent ofDothistroma needle blight affecting Pinus spp., for mycoviruses and discovered a putative, tetra partite chrysovirus, yet to be characterised. It is hoped that the discovery of mycoviruses that confer hypovirulence (reduced virulence) to these fungi might be exploited for biological control, much in the same way as they have been used with chestnut blight in Europe. We have just embarked on another new project on entomophageous fungi supported by the Steel Charitable Trust and the UH Diamond Fund. Entomopathogenic fungi are of great scientific interest because they enable analysis of virus-host interactions and can be used as biological control agents of insect pests. The deuteromycetous fungus Beauveria bassiana has a widespread geographical distribution and a wide host range, with individual isolates being more specific. In B. bassiana, the presence of dsRNA mycoviruses has been reported previously, and two members of the genus Victorivirus, family Totiviridae, have been fully sequenced. Recently the complete sequence of a novel dsRNA element from B. bassiana, provisionally designated as B. bassiana non-segmented virus has been reported and at least two further strains are known to harbor novel dsRNAs, one of which causes mild hypervirulence. Known B. bassiana mycoviruses are listed in reference 13 below. It is intended to eradicate all of the mycoviruses from the infected cohort of isolates using a combination of treatment with cycloheximide and single conidia isolation to generate isogenic lines. The virus-free and virus-infected isogenic lines will be compared and assessed for hyper- and hypovirulence as both have relevance for entomophageous activity which has previously been exploited commercially as several products are already available and used for controlling insect infestations. Through mycovirus infection the growth rate and efficiency of fungi used to control insect infestation can be improved and exploited further. There are a range of other entomophageous fungi e. g. Metarhizium anisopliae that might be investigated in a similar manner.

Plant viruses

In order to understand the replication of plant viruses we need to know and understand more of their structure and function at the smallest level. With that in mind we have initiated investigations on the Betanecrovirus, Tobacco necrosis virus (TNV-D) and its associated satellite virus, STNV-C. Data on STNV-C encapsidation has already been published (11, 14) and further work with TNV-D has concerned over-expression of the downstream p60 domain of the polymerase, which is biologically active, and preliminary crystallisation trials which have yielded encouraging results to date (10). With further optimisation it is anticipated that these crystals will diffract so that the three-dimensional structure of the subunit can be determined by molecular replacement and thus be readily amenable for a structure-based investigation programme. A new project which is BBSRC-supported project entitled ‘’Testing novel anti-viral strategies in plants’’ provides support for me and is a collaboration between myself, Professor George Lomonossoff at JIC and Professor Peter Stockley at University of Leeds, started in July 2014. 


Recent publications - last six years

1. Kozlakidis, Z., Brown, N. A., Jamal, A., Phoon, X., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2010). Incidence of endornaviruses in Phytophthora taxon douglasfir and Phytophthora ramorum. Virus Genes 40, 130-134.

2. Jamal, A.,Bignell, E. M., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2010). Complete nucleotide sequences of four dsRNAs associated with a new chrysovirus infecting Aspergillus fumigatus. Virus Research, 153, 64-70.

3. Bhatti, F., Bignell, E. M., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2011). Complete nucleotide sequences of two dsRNAs associated with a new partitivirus infecting Aspergillus fumigatus. Archives of Virology, 156, 1677-1680.

4. Bhatti, F., Jamal, A., Petrou, M. A., Cairns, T. C., Bignell, E. M., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2011). The effects of dsRNA mycoviruses on growth and murine virulence of Aspergillus fumigatus. Fungal Genetics and Biology, 48, 1071-1075.

5. Lim, J. M., Jamal, A., Phoon, X., Korhonen, K., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2011). Incidence of Phlebiopsis gigantea large virus-1 in a collection of Phlebiopsis gigantea isolates. Archives of Virology 56, 2091-2094.

6. Martelli, G.P., Agranovsky, A.A., Bar-Joseph, M., Boscia, D., Candresse, T., Coutts, R.H.A., Dolja, V.V., Hu, J.S., Jelkmann, W., Karasev, A.V., Martin, R.R., Minafra, A., Namba, S., & Vetten, H.J. (2011). ‘’Family Closteroviridae '' in Virus Taxonomy. Ninth report of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. eds A. King, M. J. Adams, E. B. Carstens, & E. Lefkowitz (Amsterdam: Elsevier-Academic Press), 987-1001.

7. Bhatti, F., Jamal, A., Bignell, E. M., Petrou, M. A., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2012). Incidence of dsRNA mycoviruses in a collection of Aspergillus fumigatus isolates. Mycopathologia, 174, 323-326.

8. Kozlakidis, Z., Herrero, N., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2013). The complete nucleotide sequence of a totivirus from Aspergillus foetidus. Archives of Virology, 158, 263-266.

9. Kozlakidis, Z., Herrero, N., Ozkan, S., Kanhayuwa, L., Jamal, A., Bhatti, M. F., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2013). Sequence determination of a quadripartite dsRNA virus isolated from Aspergillus foetidus. Archives of Virology,158, 267-272.

10. Kozlakidis, Z., Herrero, N., Ozkan, S., Bhatti, M. F., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2013). A novel dsRNA element isolated from the Aspergillus foetidus mycovirus complex. Archives of Virology, 158, 2625-2628.

11. Fang, L., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2013). Investigations on the Tobacco necrosis virus D p60 replicase protein. PLOS one, 11, 10 p.e80912.

12. Ford, R. J., Barker, A. M., Bakker, S, Coutts, R. H. A., Ranson, N. A., S. E. V., Phillips, S. E. V., Pearson, A., & Stockley, P. G. (2013). Sequence-specific, RNA-protein interactions overcome electrostatic barriers preventing assembly of Satellite tobacco necrosis virus coat protein. Journal of Molecular Biology, 425, 1050-1064.

13. Kotta-Loizou, I., Sipkova, J., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2015). Sequence of a novel unipartite mycovirus from Beauveria bassiana. Archives of Virology, 160, 873-875.

14. Shah, U. A., Kotta-Loizou, I., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2015). Sequence determination of a satellite RNA isolated from Aspergillus foetidus. Archives of Virology, 160, 883-885.

15. Patel, N., Dykeman, E.C., Coutts, R. H. A., Lomonossoff, G. P., Rowlands, D. J., Phillips, S. E. V., Ranson, N., Twarock, R., Tuma, R., & Stockley P. G. (2015). Revealing the density of encoded functions in a viral RNA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, U.S.A., 112, 2227-2232.

16. Ozkan S., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2015). Aspergillus fumigatus mycovirus causes mild hypervirulent effect on pathogenicity when tested on Galleria mellonella. Fungal Genetics and Biology, 76, 20-26.

17. Kanhayuwa L., Kotta-Loizou, I., Ozkan S., & Coutts, R. H. A. (2015). A novel mycovirus from Aspergillus fumigatus contains four unique double-stranded RNAs as its genome and is infectious as dsRNA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, U.S.A. (in revision).

18. Owen, C. A., Moukarzel, R., Huang, X., Kassem, M. A., Eliasco, E., Aranda, M. A., Coutts, R. H. A. & Livieratos, I. C.  (2016)., In vitro synthesized RNA generated from cDNA clones of both genomic components of Cucurbit yellow stunting disorder virus replicates in cucumber protoplasts.  Viruses, 8, 170.


Recent Conference oral publications 

Kotta-Loizou I., Typas M.A. and Coutts R.H.A. Characterizing the virome of the entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana. 6th Congress of European Microbiologists (FEMS), Netherlands 2015. 

Kotta-Loizou I. and Coutts R.H.A. Mycoviruses in the entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana: prospective biocontrol agents? SCI Agrisciences Young Researchers: Crop Production, Protection, Utilisation, Syngenta, UK 2015.


Recent Conference posters 

Kotta-Loizou I. and Coutts R.H.A. Studies on the virome of the entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana. Molecular Biology of Plant Pathogens Conference, UK 2015.

Shah U.A., Kotta-Loizou I., Fitt B.D.L and Coutts R.H.A. Isolation and molecular characterization of mycovirusesfrom Leptosphaeria biglobosa. Molecular Biology of Plant Pathogens Conference, UK 2015. 

Wroblewski E.L., Patel N., Barker A.M., Peyret H., Coutts R.H.A, Kotta-Loizou I., Twarock R., Ranson N.A., Lomonossoff G.P. and Stockley P.G. Sequence-specific RNA recognition and its implications for viral assembly. Microbiology Society Annual Conference, UK 2016. 


Current funded projects

BBSRC-supported project entitled ‘’ Testing anti-viral strategies in plants’’ July 2014-August 2017; £597,222 with Professor Peter Stockley, University of Leeds.

UH Diamond Fund award July 2016-July 2017: £1500 Investigations on the effects of mycoviruses on the pathogenicity of entomophageous fungi.

Steel Charitable Trust July 2016-Jult 2017: £8000 Investigations on the effects of mycoviruses on the pathogenicity of entomophageous fungi.



Bachelor of Science (1st class, London University 1970)

PhD (Nottingham University 1973)


Commercial and public engagement

International Conferences

He has given more than 30 keynote and invited presentations at international conferences since 1973, in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, USA and the UK.


He has obtained funding worth more than £3M since 1980 from organisations such as the BBSRC, DEFRA (MAFF), EU, The Leverhulme Trust, British Council and the Royal Society.

Current  funding

 1. Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship to Dr R. Coutts investigating ‘’Development of a gene silencing vector for Aspergillus fumigatus’’ - £10000 2013-2015.

 2. British Society of Plant Pathology Summer studentship to Saidat Ladejobi investigating fungal viruses in tree pathogens - £2500   2013.



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