2019 - Issue 2

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Jun 11
IS-MPMI Interactions - Issue 2, 2019

MPMI Interactions Issue 2 - 2019
Ko Shimamoto Congress Travel Awardees have been selected. Congratulations to the 70 awardees from the United States and around the world who received funding to attend the IS-MPMI XVIII Congress in Glasgow!
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Also in this issue...
The Agropolis Foundation Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize is awarded every 2 years and recognizes individuals for their “exemplary and promising contribution in promoting innovation through research, development and/or capacity building, in order to improve food and agricultural systems sustainability, as well as to address food security and poverty reduction.” 
Maria Harrison, William H. Crocker Professor at Boyce Thompson Institute, Adjunct Professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) at Cornell University, and IS-MPMI member, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Sciences recently honored Sharon Long, Stanford University, with the 2019 Selman A. Waksman Award, which recognizes a major advance in the field of microbiology. This award honors Sharon Long’s tremendous contributions to our understanding of the symbiotic interactions that lead to nitrogen-fixing legume root nodules.
May was Mental Health Awareness Month, so it's fitting that this issue of Interactions includes an article by UNC-Chapel Hill PhD candidate Susanna Harris that captures the struggles some student trainees have in the lab. The article is aimed primarily at principal investigators and provides valuable suggestions to help support a mentally healthy work environment.
The MPMI journal editorial board has planned a new way to engage our community with the "Top 10 Questions in MPMI." The idea is to brainstorm as a community to identify the top 10 unanswered questions in MPMI. As we come together in Glasgow next month at the IC-MPMI to share ideas and findings, it makes sense to take advantage of the diversity of people and research subjects to identify and focus these questions. Join the conversation!
We are always looking for content for Interactions. This issue contains examples of the types of pieces you will continue to see going forward. Members with questions or ideas should contact Interactions Editor-in-Chief Dennis Halterman.
IS-MPMI Interactions is a benefit of your IS-MPMI membership. Thank you for your continued support!
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Jun 11
Congratulations to the 2019 IS-MPMI Travel Awardees!

Congratulations to the 2019 Ko Shimamoto Congress Travel Awardees. These awards are funded by the USDA-NIFA and NSF Plant Biotic Interactions Program (applications submitted by Roger Innes), and by funds generated from previous IS-MPMI conferences. This year, 385 applications were received for travel to the 2019 IS-MPMI Congress in Glasgow, Scotland.  The USDA and NSF funding will be used to supplement travel costs for 30 attendees coming from the U.S. The IS-MPMI funds will support an additional 40 awards for non-U.S. scientists.

The award committee volunteers (President-Elect Mary Beth Mudgett, Treasurer Roger Innes, Travel Award Executive Wenbo Ma, and Interactions EIC Dennis Halterman) first ranked abstracts by topic area using input from special session chairs and then prioritized awards based on research topics, geography, and quality, to maximize the diversity of science being supported. The group of this year’s awardees represents 26 countries and comprises 42 graduate students, 23 postdocs, and 5 early-career professionals. Congratulations to all awardees! We look forward to learning more about your research in Glasgow.


  • ​​Andrew Armitage, NIAB EMR
  • Korey Brownstein, The University of Chicago
  • Maria del Pilar Caro, INSIBIO-CONICET-UNT
  • Claudia Alejandra Castro, University of California, Riverside
  • Bardo A. Castro Esparza, University of California, Davis
  • Nuri Charoennit, National University of Singapore
  • Nicholas R. Colaianni, UNC Chapel Hill Biology
  • Khondoker M. G. Dastogeer, Bangladesh Agricultural University
  • Sophie De Vries, Dalhousie University
  • Sohini Deb, CSIR- Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology
  • Zoe Dubrow, Cornell University
  • Anne Duncan, Stanford University
  • Citlali Fonseca, Instituto de Biotecnología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
  • Andrew D. Gloss, University of Chicago
  • Michael R. Gomez, University of California, Berkeley
  • Laís M. Granato, Centro de Citricultura Sylvio Moreira/Instituto Agronômico
  • Corri Hamilton, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Susanna Harris, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Janine Haueisen, Environmental Genomics CAU Kiel & MPI Plön
  • Tyler Helmann, University of California Berkeley
  • Ariel Herrera-Vásquez, Universidad Andrés Bello
  • Yiheng Hu, Australian National University
  • Alejandra I. Huerta, Colorado State University
  • Amit K. Jaiswal, Purdue University
  • Martin Janda, University of Chemistry and Technology Prague
  • Seongbeom Kim, Seoul National University
  • Seomun Kwon, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
  • Bradley Laflamme, University of Toronto
  • Asaf Levy, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Feng Li, University of Minnesota
  • Federica Locci, ​Sapienza University
  • Kamal Kumar Malukani, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology
  • Bethan Manley, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • Rose Tafadzwa Masekesa, University of Zimbabwe
  • Mamoru Matsumura, Nagoya University
  • Diana Carolina Mazo Molina, Cornell University
  • Mame Diarra Mbengue, INRA
  • Kathryn McIntyre, Colorado State University
  • Hannah M. McMillan, Duke University
  • Amanda G. McRae, University of California, Berkeley
  • Bharat Kumar Mishra, The University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Maria A. Morel, IIBCE
  • Jason Ng, The Australian National University
  • Ntombikayise Precious Nkomo, University of Pretoria
  • Bridget O'Banion, University of Tennessee
  • Juan C. Ochoa, Institute of Plant Genetics, Polish Academy of Science
  • Zigmunds Orlovskis, University of Lausanne
  • Arturo Ortega, University of California Berkeley
  • Lorena B. Parra, UC Davis- Genome center
  • Christopher Peritore-Galve, Cornell University
  • Sarah E. Pottinger, Indiana University
  • Sivasubramanian Rajarammohan, National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute
  • Mélanie K. Rich, LRSV UMR5546 CNRS/Université de Toulouse III
  • Edward C. Rojas, University of Copenhagen
  • Jose Rufian, Shanghai Center for Plant Stress Biology
  • Mugdha Sabale, University of Cordoba
  • Carol-Ann Crystal Segal, University of Pretoria
  • Adam Todd Seroka, Michigan State University
  • Lin-Jie Shu, Technical University of Munich
  • Meenu Singla Rastogi, IBENS
  • Guy Sobol, Tel Aviv University
  • DeQuantarius J. Speed, University of Chicago
  • Yi-Chang Sung, Research School of Biology, The Australia National University
  • Katalin Toth, University of Missouri
  • Stephanie Van Wyk, University of Pretoria
  • Valeria Velasquez-Zapata, Iowa State University
  • Jaap-Jan Willig, WUR
  • Silvia F. Zanini, University of Giessen, JLU
  • Jeysika Zayas-Rivera, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Yi Zhai, UC Riverside

​ ​
Jun 11
InterStellar: ​Jan Leach Receives Agropolis Foundation Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize for Agriculture and Food

Jan Leach, Colorado State University (CSU), received the Agropolis Foundation Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize for Agriculture and Food​ in the category “Distinguished Scientist.” She received the award in Montpelier, France, during the 4th World Congress on Agroforestry in May. The Agropolis Foundation Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize is awarded every 2 years and recognizes individuals for their “exemplary and promising contribution in promoting innovation through research, development and/or capacity building, in order to improve food and agricultural systems sustainability, as well as to address food security and poverty reduction.” As the associate dean for research in the College of Agricultural Sciences at CSU, Leach works with plant pathogens and insect pests and has focused on stabilizing disease resistance in rice to reduce losses, particularly in the developing world. Leach served as President of IS-MPMI from 1999-2001.

Jun 11
InterStellar: ​Maria Harrison Elected to the National Academy of Sciences

harrison.jpgMaria Harrison, William H. Crocker Professor at Boyce Thompson Institute, Adjunct Professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) at Cornell University, and IS-MPMI member, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Harrison is one of 100 new members announced on April 30. The organization recognizes her distinguished and continuing achievements in original research in plant science.

At BTI, researchers in Harrison’s lab study the mechanisms by which flowering plants exchange nutrients with symbiotic soil fungi, which could eventually help reduce the use of fertilizer in agriculture.

Because much of the phosphorus in soil is poorly soluble and therefore unavailable to plants, farmers need to supply this nutrient via fertilizer, which is costly to both the farmer and the environment. Harrison’s lab studies the symbiotic association of plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, in which the plant trades carbon for phosphorus from the fungi. Understanding the mechanisms of this exchange could help plant breeders generate strains of crops optimized to obtain phosphorus via the fungi, which could ultimately reduce phosphorus fertilizer usage.

“It is a tremendous honor to be elected to the National Academy, and I give much of the credit to the Harrison lab postdocs, students and research assistants, past and present, who have contributed to our research on arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis,” said Harrison. “Many thanks to everyone at BTI for their daily support and for making BTI an exciting place to work, and to colleagues within the Institute, Cornell SIPS and more broadly on the Cornell campus who together generate a vibrant research community that enables discovery.”

Harrison earned her doctorate in biochemistry and applied molecular biology from the University of Manchester in 1987. She then joined the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation as a postdoctoral researcher and later as a staff scientist, and was also an Adjunct Professor at Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M University prior to coming aboard at BTI in 2003.

Her successful scientific program and influential research publications earned her the honor of being included by Thomson Reuters in its list of 2016’s most highly cited researchers. Harrison is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2012) and the American Academy for Microbiology (2013). She also received the Dennis R. Hoagland Award from the American Society of Plant Biologists from 2015-2018, and the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Faculty Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring award in 2015.

Jun 11
InterStellar: ​Sharon Long receives National Academy of Sciences Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology

Photo Courtesy of Stanford University

The National Academy of Sciences recently honored Sharon Long, Stanford University, by awarding her the 2019 Selman A. Waksman Award​, which recognizes a major advance in the field of Microbiology. This award honors Sharon Long’s tremendous contributions to our understanding of the symbiotic interactions that lead to nitrogen-fixing legume root nodules. Her extensive body of work has moved the field of plant-microbe interactions forward, revealing a nuanced molecular dialogue between rhizobia and host that allow the bacteria to penetrate not only the root, but also root cells, where the metabolism of the two hosts becomes intertwined, resulting in a nutritional symbiosis.

In addition to consistently identifying and articulating core questions, Sharon leads by example, building a strong lab group, fostering a rigorous and collaborative environment that stimulates creativity and encourages development of a critical eye, holding herself to the highest ethical standards, and writing papers that clearly display the logic and reasoning behind the experiments. Sharon has been an outstanding mentor and advisor and a wonderful colleague. Congratulations, Sharon!

Jun 11
Dear Advisor, It’s not just a bad day.
​EIC’s note: May was Mental Health Awareness Mon​th, so it is very fitting that this issue of Interactions includes the following article, written by UNC-Chapel Hill PhD candidate Susanna Harris, which captures the struggles that some student trainees can have in the lab. The article is aimed primarily at principal investigators and provides valuable suggestions to help support a mentally healthy work environment. This is a topic that warrants openness and communication and I’m hoping that it will incite further discussion among the IS-MPMI membership (questions, concerns, support, etc.​). There are multiple ways that you can do this: talk with your colleagues in your lab or department; provide comments or questions after this article; tag the @ISMPMI Twitter account (use #MPMImentalhealth​) in related discussions using social media; or start a dialog with other members at the Congress in Glasgow.  The people in our labs are our most valuable resources and a great blueprint for a healthy work environment should include support for both physical and mental health.  – Dennis Halterman, Interactions Editor-in-Chief

By Susanna Harris, University of North Carolina, C​hapel Hill

You see her sitting at her bench, writing something in her notebook. “Oh good, she’s doing better,” you think, giving your graduate student a smile to convey your approval of her renewed interest in work. Compared to the first few years, her rigor and amount of progress had been declining, her attention in meetings wavering, her usually bright smile dimming instead of expanding out as she takes a new direction in research. Her labmate told you she didn’t sleep for two days before her department seminar and couldn’t stop obsessing over the tiniest error she made during the talk. But now it looks like she’s turned things around and there is no need to bring any of this up.

Or maybe it’s a new student who joined your lab last month; he impressed you with quick wit and a range of knowledge during the interview, but you’re starting to have your doubts about his dedication to grad school. After missing two meetings in a row and becoming angry at the smallest negative word from a colleague, he’s hurting the lab environment more than helping to grow your team. When he admits to seeing a therapist, you feel uneasy but hope he will soon get back to being the person you hired. You leave it alone for him to figure out. You know he needs to rediscover his excitement for research; academia is a hard but rewarding place where optimism is crucial in the face of stress.

Everyone has bad days and everyone in academic research will face many a setback, but for someone with depression it can be nearly impossible to bounce back from these disappointments. Something that causes a few days of stress for most researchers may result in weeks of fear and distress for someone living with anxiety disorders. These people may love science and want to do their research as much as everyone else, but the brilliant mind that they use to do the work is also the weapon hurting them.

Major Depressive and Anxiety Disorders are illnesses, not emotions to be pushed past1. Avoiding discussions around mental illness only further buries those struggling under more layers of guilt and shame. Still, navigating these waters is terrifying, especially since almost none of us is trained to start the conversation around mental illness. Around one in four graduate students2,3 are struggling in any two-week period, chances are YOU will need to at least dip your toes into this area or risk facing the consequences of a trainee’s ongoing suffering, both for the trainee and for your lab.

So how, with the liability issues and general discomfort of bringing up these topics, can you support your students? Think about mental illness like any other illness.

If you saw your student struggling with their physical health, what would you do?

Asthma is another chronic illness that affects millions of adults and which used to carry a similar stigma as depression does today4. You may know that a student suffers from moderate asthma and carries an inhaler, but you are not their physician and would never give medical advice; however, if you noticed that person struggling to breathe while just walking up a flight of stairs, you might ask if they were okay. If a cold spreads around the lab, you know their respiratory system could have a harder fight to clear out the virus. And if that person’s health was so bad as to disrupt their own or others’ productivity, you’d urge them to use the resources available to students, possibly offering them some time off to get better. All of this can still be true for someone dealing with depression, especially during the particularly stressful or demoralizing moments that occur throughout grad school.

The love of science cannot save a person from a depressive episode5, just as the love of running will not save an asthmatic from an attack. You are in a unique position to guide your students to the resources that can help them monitor and support their mental health.

Here is a short list of suggestions to help you get started.

1. Know your resources and requirements

Every institution has resources, but many students and faculty don’t know where to start looking. Searching through the websites yourself can be very helpful, but a director of student affairs or your department chair can help point you in the right directions. You can also email the student health services or set up a meeting with HR. Knowing what resources are available, and what guidelines and laws you are required to follow, will help you to support your trainees while protecting yourself and the lab.

2. Create a supportive lab environment

Now that you have the resources in hand, make sure that your own lab knows how to find them. If you don’t yet have a lab website with clear expectations and practices, set one up based on others’ examples6,7. In addition to curating these resources, writing a statement of support for health and diversity can show trainees that you are open to discussing these types of topics and supporting their efforts.

3. Recognize the warning signs

While we highlight Major Depression and Anxiety Disorders, many symptoms of mental health distress are common across a spectrum of illnesses8.

a. Excessive worrying or sadness

b. Difficulty concentrating

c. Loss of interest in activities (anhedonia)

d. Extreme mood changes, including euphoria or irritability, or changes in energy

e. Avoiding friends and social activities

f. Changes in eating habits or absue of substances

g. Inability to perceive changes in one’s own behavior or personality (anosognosia)

h. Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

4. Ask questions

It’s okay to ask your students how they are doing, as long as you actually listen to the answer. Given the types of sensitive information that comes out of these conversation, use discretion when sharing anything discussed, but also make sure to not put yourself in a legally compromising situation or ask for any medical information. If you feel uncomfortable about a specific situation, ask if student support services can help moderate or invite the student to bring a colleague. Respect the student’s wishes as far as using email or meetings, and be careful to not spread information9; breaking trust is worse than having none to start with. That said, you might be a required reporter for self-harm or other threats, so know where those limits are10.

Also, talk with other faculty. Many have dealt with similar issues in their own labs and may offer advice or a listening ear. Avoid giving more information away than necessary, especially if the colleague might be likely to pass on your conversation.

5. Support yourself

Graduate students aren’t the only ones who can suffer. Take this time to reflect on your own mental health to make sure that the lab is strong from top to bottom11. If there should be no shame in your trainees getting help for their wellbeing, it should be equally acceptable and laudable for you to do the same12.

Why should we focus on graduate student mental health if all levels of researchers may struggle with mental illness?

Because we need to start somewhere, and most graduate programs focus directly on training students to be adept in all facets of academic work. You talk with them about dicey situations like getting rejected,  teach them how to navigate lab politics, coach them on giving great speeches, and critique their writing process until both of you are satisfied. In addition to training them to start new experiments after others fail, you can train them to bounce back more quickly when the failures start piling up.

The students in your lab are bright, devoted, and passionate. You care about their personal and professional success. Training them to not only use their mind, but to monitor and care for it will help them be a better researcher and academic far after they graduate from your lab. Maybe reading this, you feel some guilt about someone in the past for whom you didn’t know how to give the right support. Please, forgive yourself and learn from these times so you can help your current and future trainees.


Your Trainee.


  1. “Learning the warning signs”:

Susanna Harris is PhD Candidate in Microbiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @SusannaLHarris

Susanna is also the Founder of The PhDepression LLC ( You can follow them on Twitter and Instagram at @Ph_D_epression

Jun 11
Join the ​Top 10 MPMI Campaign

By Jeanne Harris, ​MPMI Editor-in-Chief

The Idea

The MPMI journal editorial board has planned a new way to engage our community, with the Top 10 Questions in MPMI. The idea is to brainstorm, as a community, to identify the top 10 unanswered questions in MPMI. These are the questions that drive our research and that we puzzle over. What are they? As we come together in Glasgow next month at the IC-MPMI to share ideas and findings it makes sense to take advantage of the diversity of people and research subjects to identify and focus these questions. The generation of ideas that comes from discussion and argument about the big questions in our field will help us to zoom in on a Top 10 list in a way that is much more productive than our working independently. The output of this series of discussions and suggestions over the course of the congress will result in an editorial by the MPMI board, followed by a series of Perspectives or Reviews each examining a different question, appearing over the course of a year or so. We plan a series of podcasts accompanying these perspectives to help showcase these unanswered questions, and provide a context: What do we know so far? What led us to these questions? Why are these questions so compelling?  Our goal is to engage the community in more of a dialogue with the journal and also to draw the focus of the journal to the big unanswered questions in the field. 

Why the Top 10 MPMI questions?

As scientists, we focus on trying to answer the big unanswered questions in our field. Journals, naturally, publish what has been figured out. As we chip away at these big questions, we publish pieces of the answer. How do we make people aware of the big unanswered questions that motivate this work? The goal is to make the MPMI journal a central place for the community to discuss and focus our attention on the big unanswered questions that motivate us and drive our research.

I think this focus on the unanswered questions is especially important for students and younger scientists, who may find it hard to identify the big questions amid a proliferation of journal articles. The editorial, perspectives and reviews that will result from this community discussion should provide an important resource for students, postdocs and junior faculty and help to strengthen their familiarity with MPMI journal and increase their connection to it. As we focus on the key questions and issues in our field, I hope that this will also draw the attention of more senior scientists, who have shaped their career around answering these questions, and that they will want to contribute to the discussion of these big ideas in MPMI, adding their ideas and perspective.

Podcasts: MPMI journal will be developing a podcast series related to the Top 10 MPMI questions. Raka Mitra (Carleton College, MN) will be interviewing people for podcasts both at the IC-MPMI and afterwards, by phone or skype.  Podcasts will be linked to the MPMI editorial and any perspective and Review articles that they are inspired by. Have a thought about the Top 10 MPMI that you want to talk about? Find Raka Mitra at the congress or contact her by email!

What do you think are the big unanswered questions in MPMI? Join the Discussion! Email​ or tweet, tagging @MPMIjournal, #Top10MPMI - Or look for MPMI editorial board members at IC-MPMI! You can find us at the MPMI journal table near the registration area. Share your ideas with Raka Mitra, who is developing the Microgreens podcasts and will be interviewing people at the IC-MPMI in Glasgow! Email her about the podcasts at​.

Jun 11
MPMI Journal Announces Article Fee Reductions for IS-MPMI Member Authors

June 2019 MPMI Cover.jpg

​Beginning this month, Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions (MPMI) will significantly reduce the fees paid by IS-MPMI and APS members who publish in the journal. 

“This will further strengthen MPMI as a member journal of both IS-MPMI and APS,” said Nik Grunwald, chair of the APS publications board. “Members of both societies already receive member discounts on personal subscriptions to MPMI and we’re happy we can acknowledge the importance of members who publish here.” This effort was initiated by MPMI editor-in-chief Jeanne Harris’s work with the APS publications board after discussions with the IS-MPMI board.

Article fees and subscriptions help offset the costs to publish and support some of the major improvements to MPMI, such as the recent site upgrade. “APS is always looking for ways to improve the functionality of our journal platform,” according to Grunwald. 

Cost of a 12-page Paper with 5 Color Figures*

  • Before June 1, 2019: $2,360 (All authors)
  • After June 1, 2019: $1,080 (IS-MPMI Members)
*12-page paper example includes three color figures in print and five total color figures online.


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