Many of our colleagues are disabled or have chronic illnesses that may limit their access to information provided during presentations.
Chelsea Newbold, and
Sarah Boggess offer tips on how to create and give presentations that are more accessible for people living with diverse conditions, such as color blindness, hearing or visual impairments, neurodiversity, autism, dyslexia, etc.
Also in this issue...
IS-MPMI eSymposia poster presenters are strongly encouraged to include a short 3–5 minute video to accompany their poster. Having a prepared summary that is concise and effective can be extremely useful.
Dennis Halterman has compiled tips to help with the preparation of research summaries for posters.
Prof. Sheng-Yang He will address climate change, plant health, and the future of agriculture during his Keynote Address, "Plant-Pathogen Warfare under Changing Climate Conditions," at
Plant Health 2021 Online.
Jim Bradeen recently spoke with Dr. He about his career and research exploring how environmental variation impacts plant health, plant defense responses, and pathogen biology.
Dr. Jonathan Jones, professor of biology, University of East Anglia, has made landmark contributions to the field of plant immunity.
Mariana Schuster recently interviewed Dr. Jones, discussing his exceptional career and the challenges of living as an academic and bringing one's science to public use.
Dr. Wenbo Ma, senior group leader, The Sainsbury Laboratory, is a leading expert in the field of plant-microbe interactions, specializing in effector proteins.
Yeram Hong and
Jennifer D. Lewis recently spoke with her about her research, her love of collaboration, and the need to provide opportunities for anyone to pursue science.
Dr. Kimberly Webb is a plant pathologist (USDA ARS) whose research focuses on diseases in sugar beets.
Ani Chouldjian and
Jennifer D. Lewis recently interviewed her about her research and helping farmers solve problems in the field, biases toward women in academia and the workplace, and educating women about career options.
Diversity and inclusion are core values of IS-MPMI. Diverse groups are demonstrated to be more productive and creative and better able to answer key questions. We encourage all interested people to explore plant-microbe interactions. IS-MPMI has created a Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) that will foster an inclusive environment within our community.
MPMI special issue will focus on the next question of importance identified by the community—Top 10 question number 2: What Is the Role of the Abiotic Environment on the Interactions Between Plants and Microbes?
MPMI journal is now included in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)! The community-driven DOAJ indexes and provides access to high-quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals from around the world.
Wonder is a fabulously interactive tool that gives you the virtual ability to "walk around" and network with other attendees during 2021 IS-MPMI Congress: eSymposia Series events.
The USWBSI has launched its FY22 funding cycle. Instructions for submitting a letter of intent and/or pre-proposal are available on the
We are always looking for content for
Interactions. Please contact Interactions Editor-in-Chief
Dennis Halterman with questions or article ideas.
IS-MPMI Interactions is a benefit of your IS-MPMI membership. Thank you for your continued support!
Breanne Kisselstein, Chelsea Newbold, and
Chelsea Newbold (They/Them/Theirs)
M.S. Plant Pathology, Oregon State University
Low Vision and Anxiety
In a world where new committees and positions are
constantly being formed in our universities and scientific organizations around
the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, it's important to remember
that disabled people also belong to this spectrum of diverse people. We know
that 30% of full-time employees working in white-collar professions in the United
States have a disability, but only 3.2% disclose their disabilities to their
employer (Source: Center for Talent and Innovation's "Disabilities and
Inclusion" report, 2016). This means that many of our colleagues are
disabled or have chronic illnesses that we likely do not know about. As we
already know, diverse experiences allow us to have different perspectives and
come up with novel solutions to the world's problems. Isn't that why we became
scientists in the first place?
So now that we all agree that we need to do better to make
sure our colleagues can participate fully in science, let's talk about how we can do better!
While there is a plethora of ways we can make every part of our scientific
communities more equitable, let's focus specifically on how to give
presentations that are more accessible to people who live with color blindness,
hearing or visual impairments, neurodiversity, autism, or dyslexia. Here's a
checklist to get you started with the basics:
Use simple sans serif
fonts like Arial, Comic Sans, Verdana, Tahoma, Calibri, or Helvetica. Serif
fonts (like Times New Roman) can be more difficult to read, particularly the
more decorative, hand-written, and italicized fonts. "Will Comic
Sans Make a Comeback?" is an
interesting opinion article on accessible fonts and when to use them.
Use a high-contrast
color scheme like black text on a white background or vice versa.
Avoid using large
amounts of text and make sure the text remaining is large enough, i.e. 14-point
font on handouts and written documents and 24-point font on posters and
When making graphs
and figures avoid using color combinations like red and green, green and brown,
green and blue, blue and gray, blue and purple, green and gray, or green and black.
(Here is a
useful link that shows variations on color schemes that make them more
accessible.) Also, use text and
object colors that clearly contrast with the background. Black text and arrows
on a white or pale grey background (or vice versa) might seem "dull," but
it is easy for most people to read.
Perform an "accessibility
check" on your documents in recent versions of Microsoft Office and Adobe
in the Tools menu under Check Accessibility or Accessibility.
Use accessible slide
designs. Click here to
download free templates and
learn about how to create accessible graphs, reports, presentations, social
media posts, and more.
Poster presentations are often a key point of
information sharing at both national and regional meetings, and it is the
critical conversations and dialogue that emerge from these presentations that
drives our questions forward. To best serve all attendees, we recommend the
following guidelines for creating a more accessible poster:
Make sure your line
and character spacing is not too small. Use between 1.2 and 2.0 line-spacing to
allow the reader greater ease in moving from line to line. If your processor
allows for letter-spacing adjustments +3 is adequate.
Consider creating word
document, PDF file, and/or webpage versions of your poster and provide a QR
code or link on your poster to the above options. QR codes can be easily
generated through free online software or websites (e.g., www.qr-code-generator.com). This will allow viewers to access a digital version
of your poster or affiliated handouts and use screen reader software. In these
electronic versions, be sure to include alt (alternative) text for figures,
graphs, and illustrations. Here is a
great resource to learn how to write image descriptions, alt text, and captions
and what the difference is between the three.
Consider creating an
audio recording of the text and description of the visual materials on your
poster and provide a QR code or a link on your poster to the audio recording.
Pro tip: Generating this audio recording will also have you fully prepared for
when people stop by your poster at in-person meetings!
If you are presenting
your poster in person, face the people you are speaking to and avoid covering
your mouth so they can see your lips. Avoid chewing gum or eating when you are
talking. If you must wear a mask that covers your mouth be sure to include alternative
options, such as a QR code and voice recordings.
If an American Sign
Language (ASL) interpreter is present, speak directly to the person who is deaf
or hard-of-hearing. Also, if an interpreter voices for a deaf person who signs,
look at the person signing rather than the interpreter.
If you will be
presenting a video description of your poster, include captioning (see tips for
Online Presentations below).
It has been suggested
in recent years that the Better Poster format (i.e., billboard poster format) is one way to
communicate your poster's main ideas more effectively and clearly to your
audience, and it makes your poster more accessible to a diverse audience.
Note: Most people with a smartphone can open their
phone's camera and hover over the QR code on your poster to be brought to the
Public Health Association – Accessible Poster Presentations
Presentation and Poster Accessibility
Oral presentations are key ways of communicating our
research to other scientists, whether they are given at department seminars,
conference sessions, or other venues. They serve to not only present findings
but engage members in the fascinating research happening within the scientific
community. To help you craft an accessible oral presentation, we recommend the
Give your slides to
disabled audience members, captionists, and interpreters ahead of the
Avoid slides with an
excessive number of pictures, images, or screenshots. If you do use
illustrations in your storytelling, be sure to verbally describe the images or
figures that are shown on each slide during your presentation. For example, "This
image of a broken padlock represents how plant defenses can be overcome by some
Avoid complex tables
and graphs. Only include information needed to tell your story and be sure to
describe the results in your presentation. For example, "The bar graph on
the left shows that the growth of Pseudomonas in Arabidopsis was 10-fold lower following the treatment
compared to the nontreated control."
Include alt text to
describe an image when pictures and graphs are used, especially if your
slideshow will be shared with the audience before or after your presentation. Here is a
great resource for creating image descriptions and alt text.
Use a minimum font
size of 20 points for less important text but keep most text around 30 points.
If you have a hard time fitting all of your text onto a slide, try to be more
concise with your information or separate the information into multiple slides.
Use plain language.
Speak loudly, clearly, and directly into the microphone at a moderate pace. Use
active words and short sentences. Use language that reinforces the visual
material on your slides.
Always use the
microphone provided. In some cases, the amplification system is connected to an
FM transmitter, and people with hearing aids rely on sound coming through that
system. If your presentation includes sound, make sure the sound is also routed
through the amplification system and that captions are accurate and displayed
on any videos.
questions using the microphone so that all listeners can hear the question.
Online presentations and on-demand content are likely
to become more common as we phase back into in-person meetings following the
COVID-19 pandemic. Crafting prerecorded and live online content presents unique
opportunities to prepare accessible presentations. To help you craft an
accessible online presentation, we recommend the following guidelines:
Follow the layout and
content guidelines already described above.
Design your content
to be interpreted by assistive technology. Use a templated slide format. For
example, rather than adding text boxes to existing layouts, add new content
placeholders to the slide master if possible.
Use automated or live
captioning for your presentation. Share your slides or a list of key terms
(i.e., species names, acronyms, measured response variables that you repeat
often) with the captionists or captioning software beforehand and remember to
speak slowly, clearly, and loudly enough that the captioning can be as accurate
as possible. Zoom, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Google Meet all have automated
captioning options that you should get in the habit of using for all meetings and
presentations, even if nobody discloses a disability to you.
Use ASL interpreting
when possible and share your slides and a list of key terms with the
If the presentation
will be posted online for asynchronous viewing, proofread and edit the captions
and transcript. Make sure that when they are posted, captions are available and
working. (This takes the burden off disabled people who will assume that
captions and transcripts aren't available and, therefore, will be unable to
access the material or be forced to look for a contact person to ask if these
How to Create Accessible Designs
Delivering Presentations and Facilitating Discussion
Science Conference – Oral Presentation Guidelines
Do-It – Equal
Access: Universal Design of Your Presentation
Social media has become a great way to help disseminate
our scientific research and discover new collaborations. We present here a few
suggestions to help you share your research through social media so it is
accessible to all people:
Insert alt text
before posting (it cannot be done retroactively on this site).
When you see images
or gifs, reply to other posts with "@ImageAltText," and the bot will
reply with the alt text that was inserted by the original poster. If it says no
alt text, then kindly ask the original post creator to delete and repost the
image with alt text. This is especially important if the image is about a job
posting or displays a flyer for an upcoming talk that includes a registration
or video conferencing link.
@AltTxtReminder to receive reminders when you post something without alt text,
so you can quickly delete and repost with alt text.
retroactively add alt text to all posts.
descriptions in your captions or a pinned comment.
If you see valuable content
from another creator that does not have an image description in the caption or
pinned comments, kindly ask the creator to do so.
If sharing a short
video, add a transcript of any speech, either directly to the video captured or
in the description.
If releasing a
YouTube video or podcast episode, please provide captions and a downloadable
transcript along with every podcast episode. You can use a transcription
software, such as Otter AI, Temi, Trint, or others, to generate a transcript,
edit any mistakes, and share them with your deaf, hard-of-hearing, English as a
second language learners, and every other member of your audience.
AbilityNet – How to Do Accessible Social Media
Twitter – How to Make Images Accessible for People
OtterAI – Generate Live Transcripts
We would like to thank Dennis Halterman for generating
the idea to write this much needed article, for seeking out and valuing all of
our knowledge, experiences, and input, and for giving us insights and edits to
polish and publish this information. Secondly, we would like to thank The
American Phytopathological Society (APS) Committee for Diversity, Equity, and
Inclusion (DEI). This committee is co-chaired by Breanne Kisselstein and
Krystel Navarro and vice chaired by Mariama Carter and Chelsea Newbold. The accessibility
subcommittee is led by Chelsea Newbold and brought these three authors together
to share this information with you. Please feel free to contact Breanne Kisselstein in order to contact the authors or receive more
information on how to make scientific conferences, presentations, and STEM as a
whole more accessible for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, as
well as people from multiple marginalized backgrounds.
Dennis Halterman, EIC IS-MPMI Interactions
With help from Carlyn S. Buckler, Ph.D., Associate Professor of
Practice, Cornell University; Christine Smart, Ph.D., Professor, Cornell University; Hilary Bonta and Eve Nora Litt,
Applied Linguists, language connectED
At this year's IS-MPMI eSymposia poster
presenters are strongly encouraged to include a short video to accompany their
poster. Although everyone has become familiar with virtual interactions over
the past year, many of us have not practiced summarizing our research in a
short 3–5 minutes format. However, having a prepared summary that is concise and
effective can be extremely useful—not only in virtual settings, but also during
in-person interactions (when things get back to normal). I have compiled some
tips that I hope will help you as you prepare research summaries to accompany your
posters at this year's eSymposia.
Here's a general talk outline that you might find helpful:
Intro, your name, who you are – Approximately 10 seconds.
What's the hook? Why should someone listen to you and be interested in your research? – Approximately 20–30 seconds.
How will this help the person you are talking to, or what are the main points you want to make? Don't get bogged down in details—focus on the major findings and why they are important. – Approximately 1–2 minutes.
Summarize the impact of your work. Why is it important, and how will it guide future research? – Approximately 20–30 seconds.
Wrap-up, provide contact info, and ask if the person would like you to contact them, and/or let them know they can contact you. – Approximately 10 seconds.
Some helpful tips for developing your summary:
Your poster will be available for everyone
during the meeting on their own time. Therefore, it is not necessary to
describe every experiment and result in detail—let the poster do that for you.
Instead, take this opportunity to focus on the bigger picture of "why"
you are doing these experiments and what impact they might have. Spend a bit
more time highlighting the main research findings.
Know Your Audience
You may have created multiple talks
depending on their purpose. It is a good idea to know who you are talking with
and what they already know before you start. You don't want to get halfway
through your talk and realize that your audience has no idea what bacteria are,
or that plants can get sick from them. Alternatively, you don't want to spend a
lot of time introducing plant-pathogen interactions to someone who just
published a review paper in MPMI. While you can sometimes make changes "on the
spot," it is always a good idea to have a well-rehearsed talk ready to go
for most situations. For poster summaries at an IS-MPMI meeting, it is safe to
assume that most people are familiar with molecular aspects of plant-microbe
Make It Personal
Do not just explain why this research is
being done, tell them why YOU are doing this research. This will help people
relate to what you are doing and help to feed into the story that you are
telling. However, do not take this too far. You only have a couple minutes, and
people do not need to hear your entire life story. It also helps to provide a "hook"
right at the beginning (e.g., a mind-blowing statistic or surprising fact) that
will help get your audience interested in listening to what you say.
Be Clear and Concise
You only have a few minutes to describe
everything, so eliminate language that does not focus specifically on the story
you are telling. If you find yourself struggling to keep your talk to around 3
minutes, think about what your audience needs to hear to
remember your story. Your script (see below) will be helpful in highlighting
essential language and removing the extra stuff.
Eliminate Jargon (Important for a General
You are familiar with many terms that we
use like a second language in MPMI, such as hypersensitive response, effector,
that even well-educated scientists may have a hard time understanding if they
are not familiar with your area of research. Even relatively simple scientific
terms, like nucleus, receptor, molecular, kinase, membrane, and expression, may
not be appropriate to use when talking with someone who has not looked at a
biology text book since secondary school. Avoid terms like these at all costs,
unless you properly describe them to your audience. A good way to do this is to….
Analogies can be used to help describe
something complicated. It would be a great idea to have one or two "ready-to-go"
analogies that you can use to help explain something. Try to come up with some
common situations that might be similar to what you're trying to describe. When
talking about pathogenic interactions, your analogies may tend to be violent
because, well, the interaction is actually quite violent. I like to use the
analogy of a burglar (the pathogen) trying to break into your house (plant
cell). The burglar has a toolbox (effectors) that help them break in and steal
your stuff. To counter this, your house has walls (cell walls), locks, alarms
(R proteins), or an auto-destruct system (HR) that help to defend against
the burglar. (I don't know of any houses with auto-destruct systems, but you
get the idea.)
Keep in mind that some analogies might not
be understood by everyone. Similar to "jargon," be mindful of your
audience. Analogies that involve current events, religion, or regional culture,
for example, may not be understood by everyone.
Be Aware of What Your Body Is Doing
Twirling your heair, scratching your nose, constantly shifting your weight, looking at the floor, or running in circles—all can be equally distracting when you are trying to keep someone's attention. You want people to focus on what you are saying, not what you are doing.
Write/Type a Script
It will be critical that you use proper
grammar, pronunciation, and speech patterns when you give your talk. This is an
important point for everyone, not just non-native English speakers, so don't
take this lightly. Think about what it is you are trying to say. What are some
important vocabulary words that are needed to describe your research? Practice
pronouncing them accurately. What syllables need to be stressed? If it helps,
use your script to underline or highlight syllables with the most stress to
help you pronounce them correctly.
They can emphasize an important point and help you to slow down and think about
what you are going to say next. In your script, work on "thought groups"
and mark the text where you think pauses should go.
A well-rehearsed script will also help you
avoid saying "um," "ah," "so…," "you know," "right?,”
In addition, distributing a script along
with your video is incredibly important for audience members with visual,
auditory, or other impairments. If you can add subtitles to your video, it
would also be very helpful.
Do Not Be Perfect
Perfect can be boring and can seem
robotic. You want people to know that they are listening to a person. Your goal
should be to give a successful talk, not a perfect one. You should definitely
practice your talk—a lot. The more comfortable you are with your talk, the more
genuine you will seem. You may feel the need to eventually memorize your talk
word-for-word. This is okay, but sometimes it may be better to memorize certain
keywords or themes, so that if you stumble or forget something (which is fine,
by the way), it is easier to pick up where you left off.
Recording Your Video
Using your phone to record your talk will
likely work just fine. Please make sure the recording is in landscape (longer
horizontally than vertically). If you do not have your talk completely
memorized, you can use a teleprompting app (like PromptSmart) to help with the recording (you may find
something else that works too). The free (lite) version of PromptSmart does not
allow you to read and record at the same time, but you can use two devices (one
to read the script and another to record). You will likely not get it perfect
on the first try. In recording some videos of my own, I probably started and
stopped 50 times before recording one that I liked. You may want to ask a
patient friend if they are willing to help you record your video.
Jim Bradeen, APS Internal
It started in a lab meeting
one day. Members of Prof.
Sheng-Yang He's lab reported inconsistent results in seemingly
replicated disease resistance assays in Arabidopsis. Digging more deeply, the
variation was traced to the use of different growth chambers that varied in
humidity control, raising the question, "Could variation in humidity
result in such dramatic differences in disease resistance?" Meanwhile, a
student interested in how light impacts plant disease resistance pivoted when
she accidently observed that small changes in temperature can alter defense
responses. (This student's project spawned a line of research in the He lab
that demonstrated the vulnerability of salicylic acid-dependent defense
responses to temperature fluctuations.) Collectively, these fortuitous findings
caused Sheng-Yang to reflect anew on the "disease triangle" he
learned about in his introductory plant pathology class. Taken to a global
scale, Sheng-Yang began to wonder about how the environment, and especially
climate change, impacts plant health and what this means for global
Sheng-Yang will have a lot to
say about climate change, plant health, and the future of agriculture during
his Keynote Address, "Plant-Pathogen Warfare under Changing Climate
at Plant Health 2021 Online on Monday, August 2.
I asked Sheng-Yang how he got
started in plant pathology. He shared that he grew up in China and witnessed
firsthand how devastating challenges like rice blast and cotton boll weevil can
be for plants, farmers, and those who rely on healthy crops. In graduate
school, he studied plant pathology at Cornell University. He has built a
successful and celebrated career working on Arabidopsis, its interactions with
pathogens (especially bacterial pathogens), and molecular mechanisms in both
plant and pathogen. However, he has never forgotten his agricultural roots or
the importance of his research for solving plant health problems.
Now at Duke University,
Sheng-Yang and his lab group are exploring how environmental variation—in
humidity and temperature, as well as in nutrition and CO2 levels—impacts
plant health, plant defense responses, and pathogen biology. In an increasingly
volatile global environment, this is a field ripe for research. Sheng-Yang
indicates that all we have learned as a scientific community in recent decades
about both host and pathogen means we can now tackle environmental variation,
the third side of the disease triangle, with renewed research vigor.
I asked Sheng-Yang for his
advice for those just starting out in plant pathology. He indicated that one of
the strengths of our discipline is the diverse perspectives it brings. Given
his fortuitous foray into his current line of research, it should be no
surprise that he encourages students and early-career professionals to focus on
the big picture and to think about how our research impacts the real world.
Sheng-Yang offered, "Plant pathology is a fascinating field. Once people
begin to see the breadth and depth of the field, they are excited," and he
sees a future for our discipline that intersects with other fields of study,
from chemistry to engineering to informatics.
So, what can we expect from
Sheng-Yang's Keynote Address? It's going to be exciting! We will hear about
some recent and ongoing research from his program. We will be challenged to
think about our own research and how it fits into the
future of agriculture; how genome editing can be leveraged for plant
health; the importance of crop wild relatives to sustainable agriculture; and
new strategies for disease management. You won't want to miss this one! Tune in
on Monday, August 2, for Prof. Sheng-Yang He's Plant Health 2021 Keynote
Address, "Plant-Pathogen Warfare under Changing Climate Conditions."
Learn more about Sheng-Yang He and other Keynote and Plenary presenters.
Dr. Mariana Schuster
Jones (Photo courtesy JIC Photography)
Dr. Mariana Schuster
Dr. Mariana Schuster is a post-doctoral researcher in the Plant Chemetics laboratory at the University of Oxford. Her research currently focuses in unravelling the role of immune cysteine proteases of tomato against the devastating pathogen Phytophthora infestans.
Dr. Jonathan Jones is a professor of biology at the University of East
Anglia, Norwich, UK, and a group leader at The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich. His
group studies the defense mechanisms that plants use to resist pathogen attack
and the strategies that pathogens deploy to overcome the plant immune system.
Jonathan has made landmark contributions to the field of plant immunity, and
his work has been recognized with honors, including an EMBO
membership, a Fellowship of
the Royal Society, and an International
Membership in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Jonathan was recently awarded an Honorary
Membership in the British Society of Plant Pathology. On occasion of the award, I had the pleasure of
interviewing him and discussing his exceptional academic career, the challenges
of living as an academic and bringing one's science to public use, and getting
a glimpse of the man behind the scientist.
Jonathan recognized that he wanted to be a scientist
from early on. However, he says he is an "accidental plant pathologist."
Initially interested in physics and chemistry, but always motivated by research
on the mechanisms that govern life, Jonathan started his Ph.D. program in the
early years of molecular genetics and working with plant DNA. He and his team
then needed to acquire protein biochemistry skills to understand the mechanisms
by which the genes revealed in their cloning contributed to a phenotype (1). Looking back, he highlights the benefits of the
lifestyle of a scientist: "typically, in life, the more you think about
yourself, the unhappier you are. When you are doing science, you become very
preoccupied with thinking about your research problem, which is much more fun
than thinking about yourself."
It is no secret that
the career path to become an academic has changed since Jonathan started out.
He acknowledges that "now it is much tougher than back then." But, as
in the past, the key go/no-go moment to secure an academic post is when people
are applying for a faculty position. Looking back, he admits that after his Ph.D.
degree he "caught the wave of plant molecular genetics, where I was one of
a leading group of scientists who had the skills to chase down interesting
genes to begin to figure out their function" and that it was the "skill
he brought to bear on the problem." The skill was important back then and
is still relevant, but now most labs have these skills: "To get a job you
have to present yourself as someone who is particularly good at something, who
can bring those skills to tackle a problem—and it has to be an important and
interesting problem—where no one has applied those skills and methods before."
In addition, what Jonathan now looks for in applicants for group leader
positions is a unique, original, and independent-minded engagement with the
biological problem; a mature knowledge of the field that allows the applicant
to recognize a relevant research question; and a size and outlook of the
project that lies within "that sweet spot of what is ambitious yet
feasible" and is also "a project that has legs."
In his case, Jonathan
became a group leader and entered the field of plant pathology by applying his
skills in plant molecular genetics to the identification of the then-enigmatic Resistance (R) genes. R genes were
known to confer disease resistance against pathogens. Using transposon tagging,
his group was able to identify Cf-9, a gene that confers tomato resistance against the
fungal pathogen Cladosporium
fulvum (2). "It was very satisfying to develop a lethal
selection that enabled almost effortless recovery of dozens of mutants in Cf-9," Jonathan
Cf-9 encodes a cell-surface immune receptor containing
leucine-rich repeats—the first such receptor to be discovered. Immune receptors
are key proteins that detect molecules from invading pathogens and then
initiate the signaling that ultimately leads to defense responses. Jonathan's
group identified many such receptors and soon started researching their
I have listed only a
couple examples of the fundamental discoveries that Jonathan's group has made
in our understanding of the proteins that confer resistance to pathogen attack.
In fact, when asked which contribution to plant
pathology he is proudest of, he answers: "I could mention a few." Hunting for the
mechanism of action of receptor-like proteins (RLPs), he devised a theoretical framework for how
receptors could be activated, now known as the guard hypothesis (3). "This
was my first theoretical contribution to be
later validated experimentally in a nice collaboration with the group of Pierre de Wit,"
he said. He referred to work on Cf-2, another immune receptor from tomato that monitors
(guards) the activity status of tomato cysteine protease Rcr3, an important
component of the plant's defense repertoire. Rcr3 is targeted by the pathogen
effector Avr2, a cysteine protease inhibitor. Once the pathogen tries to disarm
the plant by inactivating Rcr3, it falls into the trap of the guard mechanism that
ends in a strong Cf-2-dependent
defense response (4). He's also proud to have contributed to the success of
TSL, alongside his superb set of colleagues who continue to do pioneering
science at TSL, and of the success of the alumni who are former students or
postdocs from his lab, such as Tina Romeis, Martin Parniske, Brande Wulff, and
Cyril Zipfel. He's also hugely grateful to all the students and
postdocs who've contributed to the success of his lab over the last 32 years,
and to David Sainsbury's Gatsby
Foundation for their sustained
and generous funding of TSL.
Inspired by the work
of the Brian Staskawicz lab that showed that a pepper immune receptor can confer
disease resistance in tomato (5), Jonathan decided to open an applied research
stream in his group that aims to tackle crop losses due to diseases. The idea
is elegant and powerful: generate pathogen-resistant crop varieties by
introducing immune receptors into plants that lack them. When asked about how
that experience compares to life as an academic, he starts by stressing that
fundamental discoveries in science are the major source of solutions for "real
life problems," and that although he is satisfied with the balance between
applied and basic research in his group, he is conscious that "you cannot
do everything, so any time I spend in applied research, is time I do not spend
making fundamental discoveries, although work with an applied intent can reveal
new and interesting scientific problems."
Some examples of
resistant plant varieties developed with contributions from Jonathan's group
can be found in the June 2016 edition of Nature Biotechnology: soybean resistant to
Asian soybean rust (6), potato resistant to late blight (7), and wheat
resistant to stem rust (8). Two of these three papers were dependent on RenSeq
(8), the sequence capture method for R gene cloning developed in his lab.
Jonathan is happy to have contributed to applied plant science but acknowledges
that he did not predict, and thus underestimated, the fact that people would
find problems in the solutions he provided. He finds the need to work around
these problems frustrating, but acknowledges that even scientists must have
faith and hopes that his solutions will be implemented eventually.
Jonathan is a happy
husband, father, and proud grandfather of four: "two 2‑year olds, one 5‑year
old, and one 8‑year old. Seeing them develop and grow is a great source of
happiness!" On work–life balance and family, he points out that "it's
hard enough to get your own life right, let alone anybody else's." He
highlights his appreciation for his illustrious partner Professor
Dame Caroline Dean. Their family features in the book Mothers in
When asked about his
passion aside from science and family, Jonathan told me that he likes to sail
on the weekends and that he owns a sailing boat called "zigzagzig," which is both the
name of what one must do to take a sailboat upwind and of the model describing
the immune system for which he is famous (8). "The Zig-zag-zig model was proposed to bring together two schools of
thought: the geneticists investigating gene-for-gene interactions, and the
biochemists who added elicitors to cell cultures and defined what happens."
According to this model, plants use cell-surface receptors to recognize the
presence of a pathogen and mount an immune response termed
pattern-triggered-immunity (PTI). Adapted pathogens use effectors to inactivate
PTI and cause disease (effector-triggered-susceptibility [ETS]). In turn,
resistant plants deploy specialized receptors, generally intracellular, to
detect these effectors and mount a stronger defense response termed
As to what is Jonathan up to today, on April 1 (not a
joke) of this year, his group published a new paper in
which they further explain the relation between PTI and ETI (10). This was independently
verified by another lab's report published in the same issue of Nature. Beforehand,
the nature of ETI was rarely studied in the absence of PTI. "These papers show that ETI replenishes and
restores PTI, not only helping us better understand the dynamics of the plant
immune system but also why R gene stacking
for disease resistance works so well. It's been very satisfying to see how the
basic and applied science in my lab has (dare I say?) mutually potentiated."
and chemistry to plant biology. Plant Physiology (nih.gov)
of the tomato Cf-9
gene for resistance to Cladosporium
fulvum by transposon tagging. Science (sciencemag.org)
pathogens and integrated defence responses to infection. Nature
Avr2 inhibits tomato Rcr3 protease required for Cf-2-dependent disease resistance. Science
Expression of the Bs2 pepper gene
confers resistance to bacterial spot disease in tomato. PNAS (pnas.org)
gene confers resistance to Asian soybean rust in soybean. Nature Biotechnology
cloning of a potato late blight-resistance gene using RenSeq and SMRT
sequencing. Nature Biotechnology (nature.com)
of disease-resistance genes in plants using mutagenesis and sequence capture.
Nature Biotechnology (nature.com)
immune system. Nature (nature.com)
Mutual potentiation of plant immunity
by cell-surface and intracellular receptors. Nature (nature.com)
and Jennifer D. Lewis
(left to right): Ilea Chau, Jamie Calma, Yuritzy Rodriguez, Yuan Chen, Karl
Schreiber. Back row (left to right): Jana Hassan, Hunter Thornton, Jennifer
Lewis, Maël Baudin, Jacob Carroll-Johnson, Jack Kim.
Yeram Hong is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, in her
third year. She is double majoring in forestry and in genetics and plant
biology. From a young age, Yeram has been interested in the natural
environment, with a particular interest in plant biology. Her current research
interests include protein function in plant nuclear membranes and bacterial
plant pathology. Outside of academia, Yeram enjoys drawing, caring for her many
houseplants, and reading literary fiction.
Jennifer Lewis is a principal investigator at the U.S. Department of
Agriculture and an adjunct associate professor at UC Berkeley. Her lab studies
the plant immune system and its response to the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae.
The Lewis lab is committed to diversifying plant sciences. To encourage this,
we are carrying out interviews with prominent scientists in the field to
discuss their research and their perspectives on diversifying science.
Dr. Wenbo Ma
Dr. Wenbo Ma has been selected to receive the 2021 Ruth Allen Award from The American Phytopathological Society. This
award honors individuals who have made an outstanding, innovative research
contribution that has changed, or has the potential to change, the direction of
research in any field of plant pathology.
Dr. Ma currently holds a position as the senior group
leader at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK, where she is a leading
expert in the field of plant-microbe interactions. Her specialty is effector
proteins: these are proteins produced and delivered by microbial pathogens into
plant hosts, where they can directly manipulate host physiology and immunity.
After introduction into a host, effectors can overwhelm the immune system and
promote vulnerability to infection.
Effector genes are the fastest evolving feature of
pathogens, and Dr. Ma finds the evolutionary race between effectors and hosts
fascinating. She states, "One of [my personal interests] is coevolution. I
feel that effectors and pathogens always surprise us. They always come up with
amazing things, strategies, mechanisms, to fight back against the host."
Dr. Ma believes that effectors hold a key to unlocking more knowledge about
plant pathology: "If we know how effectors function in the host cell, then
we understand how pathogens become a pathogen, how they cause disease."
She also believes that once researchers can identify what pathogens attack in
their hosts, a more selective and strategic defense plan can be created to make
plants more resistant to the disease. Her eventual goal is to "use [the]
fundamental knowledge [she gains] to identify these fundamental principles in
disease and use this knowledge to develop strategies that enhance disease
resistance in crops."
Dr. Ma's current research focuses on effectors
produced by Phytophthora species, an oomycete pathogen
that is linked to a large variety of devastating diseases and that targets a
broad range of hosts. One such disease with a global impact is the late potato
blight, which can cause total crop failure if not properly dealt with in
fields. Dr. Ma was able to identify novel functions of Phytophthora
effectors. She found that many of these effectors perform suppressor activities
that can inhibit the activity of small interfering RNAs (siRNA) in plant
defense pathways. In normal situations, a plant infection can prompt siRNAs to
selectively target and deactivate alien nucleic acids introduced by pathogens.
However, in a plant infected by pathogens carrying these suppressor effectors,
this defense system is shut down. Although small RNAs are usually associated
with viral infections, the presence of Phytophthora
effectors that silence siRNA suggested that siRNAs are actually contributing to
plant defense against nonviral pathogens. From this discovery, Dr. Ma was able
to identify a specific class of plant siRNAs that are important for a nonviral
pathogen defense process called host-induced gene silencing. She is now
continuing this line of research to better understand "how this specific
class of siRNA is regulated during plant response to pathogens, and how we can
use this knowledge to implement this defense mechanism, which is quite
different from [other mechanisms]."
Dr. Ma is also pursuing another significant line of
research into the devastating citrus huanglongbing disease (HLB) caused by the
bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus. Citrus HLB is different from
well-studied apoplastic pathogen systems because the bacteria colonize phloem
tissue. Therefore, much of the knowledge gained by studying apoplastic-type
pathogens may not apply. Interested in this new challenge, Dr. Ma proceeded to
conduct research on how to deal with this pathogen, which colonizes a unique
cellular environment. Through her work, Dr. Ma was able to identify a class of
proteases that most likely contributes directly to plant immunity within the
phloem. Currently, she is working on systematically characterizing effectors
from Ca. L. asiaticus and finding their targets in
the phloem or neighboring tissues. Her focus is on phloem colonization by the
bacteria, and she plans to use the knowledge of induced molecular events to
provide more sustainable solutions against citrus HLB.
While Dr. Ma has been a leader in her field of plant
pathology for many years, she did not originally intend to study the subject.
She received her bachelor's degree in general biology while attending college
in Beijing at the Chinese Academy of Science: Institute of Microbiology. During
her undergraduate studies, Dr. Ma participated in research and discovered her
passion for microbiology while studying under Dr. Huarong Tan, who worked on Streptomyces genetics. She then continued to pursue her master's
degree in microbial genetics under his mentorship. While studying in China, Dr.
Ma had the support of her parents in her career path, which she feels was very
quite fortunate or lucky [because] my parents were university professors. I grew
up in an environment where my parents were very supportive of me becoming a
very fortunate to have the support from my family and also my husband.
This level of support was not always the case in her
community, and Dr. Ma said, "I feel there was a lot of bias in the culture
of Chinese communities, especially at that time. Women were usually the
supportive role in the family or in society." Outside the circle of her
close family, Dr. Ma still experienced the criticism of people who questioned
her ability to balance her professional work and her expected familial duties
of raising children. But to this, she exclaimed:
these other opinions or comments from these people become a motivation rather
than discouragement. I began to think that this is nothing I should be stopped
by. I feel now, I almost have a responsibility [to be] that person that can
tell other people, other young female scientists, that this is quite normal. We
can all do it!
She believes that the presence of role models is very
valuable and strives to inspire others to seek their dreams. She commented:
very important to have role models, to have those examples there so that the
younger generations of young kids can see this is nothing impossible. This is
very very possible. There are opportunities, and there are ways, and you can
get here also.
After finishing her master's degree in microbial
genetics, Dr. Ma pursued her Ph.D. degree in Canada at the University of
Waterloo, working with Prof.
Bernard Glick. He is a major pioneer in biotechnology, and his
expertise was the use of bacteria to remediate plants under stress conditions.
Under Prof. Glick, Dr. Ma worked on her Ph.D. thesis, for which she isolated
beneficial rhizosphere bacteria that may help with plant growth from plants
growing in contaminated soil. After receiving her Ph.D. degree, Dr. Ma's
attention was captured by the groundbreaking research of Prof. David Guttman
at the University of Toronto, who, along with his colleagues, had published a
milestone paper on the identification of type 3 secreted effectors from the
bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae.
This paper provided her with a much better understanding of the effector
repertoire produced by bacteria pathogens, and Dr. Ma was hooked. She worked
with Guttman as his first postdoc in Toronto and began her research on
After the University of Toronto, Dr. Ma then pursued
an academic path in the United States, where she worked for 14 years as a
professor of plant pathology in the Department of Microbiology and Plant
Pathology at the University of California, Riverside. Of these 14 years as a
primary investigator, she stated that, "I'm very proud of not only our
solid science and the novel insights that it can provide, but how, through this
research, we were able to train some young scientists. And now, several of them
have their own independent research programs." During her stay at UC Riverside,
Dr. Ma trained more than 50 undergraduate students in her lab. She believes a
large part of the value of her research at UC Riverside came from her ability
to use it as a training program to encourage students, who she sees as the next
generation of scientists and researchers.
Dr. Ma believes that a large part of the beauty of
science is the collaboration that occurs behind the scenes, as doing research
gives her many opportunities to work with collaborators, colleagues, students,
postdocs, and staff scientists. She stated, "I really like working
together with people of different expertise and strengths, and I think it is
more important than ever to work together." She enjoys the diversity of
different perspectives and people within science working together, commenting, "I
think that's my favorite part of research."
Along with her love of collaboration, she is also
passionate about providing resources and opportunities for anyone of any
background to pursue science. She emphasized the need for this, stating, "We
need to provide opportunities. We need to really reach out to people, and I
want to emphasize the importance of providing research opportunities…as early as possible
when they are in high school, middle school, or even earlier." She
believes there are good programs available to specifically support
underrepresented minority groups and women that encourage them to pursue
science and provide resources for them to perform research, such as summer
internship programs. Dr. Ma believes that "we will see fruit from all
these programs in some years. Nothing can happen overnight, but this requires
continuous proactive effort."
For Dr. Ma, research is an ongoing job that does not
end after working hours. She states, "[Research] is not a 9 to 5 job. I
spend time during the weekends, in the evenings; I still spend the time I have
[doing] something research-related." However, in the free time she gives
herself, Dr. Ma spends much of it with her husband and two children. She enjoys
seeing different landscapes and likes to hike with her family on the weekends.
Dr. Ma is also an avid sports fan and is currently keen on the soccer scene of
the United Kingdom where she is now living.
Ani Chouldjian and Jennifer D. Lewis
Front row (left to
right): Ilea Chau, Jamie Calma, Yuritzy Rodriguez, Yuan Chen, Karl Schreiber.
Back row (left to right): Jana Hassan, Hunter Thornton, Jennifer Lewis, Maël
Baudin, Jacob Carroll-Johnson, Jack Kim.
Dr. Kimberly Webb
Ani Chouldjian is currently a senior at the University of
California, Berkeley, majoring in microbial biology. She is interested in
plant-microbe interactions, infectious diseases, and genetics. After graduation,
she wishes to take a year or two off from school to pursue research
opportunities and later enter a microbiology and immunology Ph.D. program.
Jennifer Lewis is a principal investigator at the U.S. Department of
Agriculture and an adjunct associate professor at UC Berkeley. Her lab studies
the plant immune system and its response to the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae.
The Lewis lab is committed to diversifying plant sciences. To encourage this,
we are carrying out interviews with prominent scientists in the field to
discuss their research and their perspectives on diversifying science.
Dr. Kimberly Webb
Webb is a plant pathologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) in Fort Collins, CO. Her research
primarily focuses on diseases in Beta vulgaris (sugar beets) caused by Fusarium species, Beet necrotic
yellow vein virus (BNYVV), and Rhizoctonia species. It is
important to study these diseases because sugar beet is an important commercial
crop that accounts for 50–60% of
sucrose production within the United States. Fusarium species, BNYVV, and Rhizoctonia species cause foliar symptoms in B. vulgaris. Fusarium invades the
vascular system of the plant and produces toxins, causing yellowing of the
leaves and necrosis. BNYVV causes rhizomania, whose symptoms include taproot
constriction and proliferation of small feeder roots with reduced sugar content.
BNYVV also causes wilting and yellowing of leaves. Rhizoctonia causes stunted leaf growth
and wilting of foliage. By preventing these plant diseases, growers can
decrease crop losses and increase sugar beet yields.
Dr. Webb studies many isolates within many species of Fusarium and tries to
identify isolates that cause disease in the field. A major tool she uses to do
this is phylogenetics. In one of her studies, Dr. Webb and her team identified
multiple species of Fusarium
that are able to cause disease in sugar beets; they found a greater number
of virulent strains than people previously thought existed. Dr. Webb says, "Phylogenetics
is a really good tool to see if there are genetic mechanisms that are
associated with these pathogen phenotypes." She also studies the effects
of temperature and soil moisture on Fusarium virulence. She has found that
temperatures of 24°C
or higher lead to more Fusarium yellows; however, symptoms do not worsen as
temperatures increase past 24°C.
Higher soil moisture also correlates with an increase in Fusarium yellows.
However when looking at the effect of temperature and soil moisture on Fusarium virulence,
the results ultimately depend on the Fusarium strain under study.
Dr. Webb also studies sugar beet resistance and
susceptibility to BNYVV and Rhizoctonia species. In both cases, she uses proteomics and metabolomics
to look at the proteins and metabolites present in healthy and infected B. vulgaris. She also
looks at the difference in protein and metabolite content in infected
susceptible or resistant strains of sugar beets. Looking at these differences
allows her to identify certain pathways that are related to BNYVV and Rhizoctonia infection
and resistance within sugar beets. These studies help identify specific genes
in B. vulgaris that
confer resistance to these pathogens.
Dr. Webb is proud of the fact that through her
research she is able to help farmers solve problems they are experiencing in the
field. She says, "Within my research, being able to help people solve
problems has been the most exciting part of it, even in my private industry
days I really enjoyed being able to solve a problem for my customers and
farmers at the time." Dr. Webb believes that her research is important for
the future because she is "building little pieces of knowledge that other
researchers can use to not only help sugar beet growers but also agricultural
Although she really enjoys solving problems in her
field of research, Dr. Webb never planned on becoming a plant pathologist. When
she first started her undergraduate degree at Colorado State University, her
intended major was business. However, during her senior year she decided to
change her major to agronomy after taking a plant biology course in which her
professor really challenged her. She said,
When I was an undergraduate I actually started as a business major, science was not even in my mindset. I was in business courses, and I needed to have three more credits to fill out my year. The only class I could get into was a plant biology class, so I ended up taking it. I think that just having really good professors really got me interested in plant biology, and so I switched my undergraduate major when I was a senior and ended up completing a whole agronomy degree within a year and a half in addition to an agricultural business minor.
After finishing her undergraduate degree, Dr. Webb
took a job as a crop consultant in western Kansas, where she was responsible
for advising dry bean growers on general agronomic practices. She was
responsible for looking at pinto bean fields and helping farmers decide how to
better manage their irrigation, soils, and plant diseases. It was this job that
led her to the decision to attend graduate school and learn more about plant
pathogens. She said,
plants had a ton of diseases. Every week I seemed to tell them to spray more
chemicals, and it didn't seem to do any good. They asked me why I was telling
them to spray chemicals when it wasn't doing anything, and I said 'I don't
really know.' That made me decide that I wanted to go to graduate school to
learn more about plant pathology, and I'm glad I did.
Dr. Webb believes that her greatest accomplishment so
far is the fact that she is the first person in her family to go to college and
be able to work her way through college on her own. She says, "I was the
first person in my family to go to college and to go all the way and get a Ph.D.,
when we really had no knowledge of what a college education was; this is the
thing I am most proud of in my career." She participated in a Ph.D.
program at Kansas State University and conducted her studies under the
supervision of Dr. Jan
Leach. Dr. Webb studied Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae, which is a bacterium that causes rice blight.
Because rice is not grown in Kansas, Dr. Webb spent most of her time in the
Philippines at her rice plots and "looked at different combinations of how
to use rice resistance genes and collect bacteria that was in the field."
She would then bring the bacteria she collected back to the United States and
study them. She said, "[We would] characterize the bacterial population using
phylogenetics to see if we were maintaining resistance or if we were
encouraging the bacterial population to mutate to be more virulent."
the very day she received her Ph.D. degree in plant pathology in 2005, Dr. Webb
had her son. She then decided to work in industry. She said, "It's been a
unique path for me; most people take a traditional postdoc path after a Ph.D.
[program] and then move into research or academia. I actually went into
industry instead of a traditional postdoc." While working in industry, Dr.
Webb had the title of seed health manager at STA Laboratories and managed seed
health testing at two facilities—one in Colorado and one in California. She
made sure that testing followed industry standards for quality. She said, "What
our company did was, test all commercial agricultural seed for the presence of
seedborne pathogens. It was basically a diagnostic laboratory. I worked with
over 40 different crops and disease interactions to identify and determine if
they were actually colonizing the seed prior to being sold to the market."
After three years of working in industry, Dr. Webb joined the USDA ARS and
continues to conduct research there today.
When asked if anyone ever discouraged her from
pursuing a career in science because she is a woman, Dr. Webb said, "I
wouldn't necessarily say because I'm a woman"; however, she believes that
biases toward women definitely exist within academia and the workplace. Dr.
Webb was strongly discouraged from having kids, and she believes that women
having to choose between having a career or a family is a big issue in today's
society. She said,
I had an
amazing female mentor; however, she was probably the biggest one who
discouraged me from having kids. I was actually discouraged against either
starting a family or staying in science. There is still this perception that
the most successful female scientists tend to not have kids. I think that is
one of the hardest things for women in science to deal with, because women also
tend to be the primary child carer and to take care of the home. I don't need
to be the most prestigious scientist. I want to do my job to the best of my
abilities, but I may not ever win a Nobel Prize. I really wanted to put my
family as a priority. I think that there is still this stigma that if you don't
want to be the best, then you're somehow not successful, and I think it's a
particular issue in academia. Or, you have to delay everything until after you
get tenure; you have to do "x," "y," and "z"
first, then you can have kids. It's almost a competition type mentality.
Dr. Webb also believes that biases against women exist
within the workplace. She said, "There's this stereotype that women tend
to be more empathetic, gentle, or more understanding, and if you're not falling
into that group then you're being judged on how you communicate with your
coworkers. I have been criticized for not being emotional enough; I don't think
that would ever be told to a man." She believes that a solution to this
problem can be to incorporate training or classes on leadership into graduate programs,
where students learn how to deal with certain communication problems or
personality differences. She said, "I think this is where business does a
much better job than science, because they teach students how to interact with
different people and different personalities. When I was in private industry, I
had to take a couple supervisor and manager training courses. They were week
long sessions, and they were great. I think we should provide more
opportunities like that to our undergraduate and graduate students in science
and plant pathology." Dr. Webb also said that in her 16 years of working
in plant pathology she hasn't seen a decrease in these biases toward women,
which is why these training courses and classes would be important to not only
decrease biases toward women but also toward minorities.
When asked if she thinks the inclusion of women in
plant pathology will increase in the future, Dr. Webb stated that she believes
it will; however, women should also be educated so that they know that careers
in plant pathology exist. She stated that, "It's still a primarily male-dominated
field. Within the USDA, at my location up until two years ago we only had two
female scientists. I think we are doing a better job at the high school and
undergraduate levels of bringing females into the sciences. It would be nice,
especially in rural and agricultural communities, to let women know that there
is more to agricultural careers than just traditional farming. Most women go
into the family farm and business but don't know that there is more technical
science and research that they could do in agriculture outside of just farming."
Aside from educating students on how to deal with
certain biases and women about their career options, Dr. Webb also believes
that the public should be educated on how food is grown. She says, "I wish
that we would teach people more about agriculture than just trying to pick
sides over which agricultural system is better than the other." Dr. Webb
believes that many people fear new scientific technologies, like those used in
agriculture, and, therefore, believes that the public should be educated about
topics like genetically modified crops.
In her free time, Dr. Webb loves to spend time with
her son, who sometimes accompanies her to the lab. She also loves being
outdoors and hiking. One piece of advice that Dr. Webb has for the younger
generation is to "make sure you have a life outside of work. For your
mental health, you have to have activities and other things that you like to
Diversity and inclusion
are core values of the International Society of Molecular Plant-Microbe
Interactions. We are committed to cultivating and supporting a diverse
membership, with inclusion, openness, and respect. Diverse groups are
demonstrated to be more productive and creative and better able to answer key
questions. We encourage all interested people to explore plant-microbe
interactions, independent of their age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity,
immigration status, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and
As an international
society, it is our priority to increase diversity and facilitate change. IS-MPMI
has created a Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) that will foster an
inclusive environment within our community.
Over the course of the
unusual times in which we are living, the CDI has been working closely with
another IS-MPMI initiative, IS-MPMIConnect, that is focused on fostering bonds among
all members of our scientific community. Future work from the committee will include
increasing visibility and discussions about equity, diversity and inclusion
(EDI) in IS-MPMI eSymposia, as well as in-person meetings.
IS-MPMI Diversity and
Inclusion Committee Members
Prof. Giles E. D. Oldroyd FRS
Director, Crop Science Centre, University of Cambridge
I have worked
in plant-microbe interactions for 30 years and been an openly gay man over this
whole period. I moved to Berkeley, CA, as an undergraduate student to work with
and came out as a gay man within two months of arrival. My professional life
and my minority status have been intertwined ever since.
I was born in
the early 1970s. I benefitted from the early LGBT+ pioneers, whose efforts
meant that there were some positive presentations of LGBT on television and
films as I was growing up. However, throughout my schooling I experienced
discrimination against my identity on a daily basis: my sexuality was something
to be ridiculed. Growing up like this does not engender a deep sense of one's
worth. I focused instead on what I was good at, studying, and kept my sexual
identity hidden until I felt able to come out.
When I moved
to San Francisco, CA, I entered a bubble of LGBT+ liberation. It was an
exciting time for me, discovering much about myself personally and
professionally. It is difficult to describe the feeling of being liberated and
free, after a lifetime of oppression. To this day, coming out as a gay man
remains my most authentic act.
returned to the United Kingdom, I found myself the only out LGBT+ faculty
member at my place of work. While I was out, I wasn't very open about my
sexuality, and this is something that I now regret. Speaking openly about
sexual identity is a challenging thing to do in a professional context, and it
took 15 years to hear the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender spoken in
any professional context. I now recognize that it is really important for LGBT+
staff members to be vocal about their identities: if we are not vocal, very few
people will be vocal for us.
Meyers Lab, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
My passion for
plant-microbe interactions grew during the second year of studying for my
bachelor's degree in biology at the University of Barcelona. I understood that
plants are aware of their surroundings and communicate with each other to
protect themselves from pathogen attacks. These new concepts just blew my mind,
and a few years later, after completing my master's degree in molecular
biotechnology at the University of Barcelona, I graduated with a Ph.D. degree
in plant biotechnology, studying the role of small RNAs in plant defense
against fungi, at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Today, I live in St. Louis,
MO (USA), and I study the role of small RNAs as a way of communication between
plants and all sorts of pathogens, trying to unravel how these small RNAs make
their way from one organism to another.
I am a woman and a mother
and soon to be the mother of two boys. During my career in plant biology, I
have been extremely lucky; I have always had female role models to look up to,
and I have always had my family's unconditional support, even if they had a
hard time understanding what I was doing. However, since becoming a mother, I have
felt that our scientific environment is not shaped to support and encourage all
of us. Since becoming a mother, I cannot nor do I want to attend scientific
events that happen on weekends. I prefer to spend my "free" time with
my family. Since becoming a mother, traveling to conferences that do not
provide affordable daycare is hard and nearly impossible. Since becoming a
mother, I've started noticing that there are little details that do not allow
all of us to enjoy science in the same way. These are some of the reasons I
joined the IS-MPMI Board of Directors as a junior member and the IS-MPMI CDI to
instigate change to make science a more inclusive and accommodating
Ayooluwa Bolaji (She/Her)
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
Currently, I work as a research
scientist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Winnipeg, MB, Canada,
where my projects focus on microbial genomes. Prior to joining the CFIA, I was
a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Manitoba, where I utilized
next-generation and long-read sequencing approaches to shed light on how
certain microbes promote the growth of Canada's crops (canola and soybean). As
a young black woman in STEM who has experienced both microaggressions and
discrimination within the scientific community, I feel that more needs to be
done to make everyone feel welcomed, and tough conversations must be had. Being
a part of the IS-MPMI CDI has opened my eyes to the many things that can be
done to raise diversity awareness and proffer solutions for the inclusion of
both women and BIPOC in STEM. I look forward to working with the CDI to facilitate
and address some of these tough conversations within the IS-MPMI society.
Outside the lab, I enjoy golfing and going on long bike rides.
Franck Ditengou (He/Him)
Lecturer, University of
After a first postdoc position at the Institut National de la Recherche
Agronomique (INRA) in Nancy (France), I joined the team of Prof. Klaus Palme at the
University of Freiburg (Germany) in 2002 to study how the root system copes
with environmental (biotic and abiotic) changes. Particularly, the
communication between plants and soil fungi prior to symbiosis establishment,
the impact of mechanical stimuli on root system architecture, and the molecular
mechanisms regulating plant response to gravity and microgravity. It is in this
context that I coordinated several parabolic flights and sounding rocket
campaigns, during which multiscale analyses of plant development under various
gravitational environments were performed. The results of these studies serve
as the basis for the development of procedures and methods for selecting plants
capable of growing in alien environments.
Since 2007, I have been
appointed as a lecturer at the University of Freiburg (Faculty of
Biology), and in 2017, I joined the team of Prof. Thomas Ott in the
scope of the ENSA project. The objective of this project is to use naturally
occurring biological nitrogen fixation to conceive self-fertilizing crops
within the reach of small farmers in the Sub-Saharan Africa. Our laboratory
focuses on the characterization of the molecular processes modulating the
initial steps of rhizobial infection. For someone with African roots, like me,
this project is a great opportunity to contribute my knowledge to improving
living conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition, currently I am the assistant treasurer of the IS-MPMI CDI. Having
observed the scientific community for a long time, especially in our field, I
have noticed that it would benefit from being more inclusive. This is the
meaning of my commitment within the CDI to encourage research institutes and
labs to have a more balanced representation across the spectrum of society.
Non-scientific interests and other responsibilities: I am the president and a founding
member of GABIOMED Researchers Inc. (www.gabiomed.org). GABIOMED Researchers Inc. gathers Gabonese scientists with backgrounds
in life science and environment, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or religion. I
am an active member of the Spvgg.
Gundelfingen/Wildtal football club.
Ariel Herrera Vásquez (He/Him)
Institute of integrative Biology (iBio) and Andres Bello University (UNAB)
My name is Ariel Herrera
Vásquez, and I'm a Chilean postdoc at the Millennium Institute of integrative
Biology (iBio) and Andres Bello University (UNAB) in Santiago, Chile. I
recently won a small grant to open an independent research line that could kick
start a career as an independent researcher. When I'm not working, I enjoy
spending time outdoors. I also like cooking and crafting.
Before the first EDI
reunion during the IS-MPMI meeting in Glasgow (2019), I never thought about the
enormous human diversity in science and how different experiences are depending
on the cultural context where colleagues do their research. As a Latin American
gay scientist, it is a great honor to participate in CDI to help to make
visible and increase diversity to facilitate inclusion and changes in our
Charles Roussin-Léveillée (He/Him)
Ph.D. student, University
Hi! My name is Charles,
and I am a Ph.D. student in Dr. Peter Moffett's lab at the University of Sherbrooke, in
the fabulous province of Quebec, Canada. I am interested in plant-microbe
interactions and, more specifically, in how microbial invaders manipulate their
host cells beyond interference with immune processes. I am an avid hiker,
sourdough bread maker, and gardener.
I grew up in a very
diverse community and wasn't necessarily very aware as a young person of all
the inequalities that people face in this world. As I grew up and went to
college, I began to realize that many people around me were facing obstacles in
their lives and careers that I would not have to face, and I could not accept
that. I was fortunate to have life-changing conversations during the first EDI
night at IS-MPMI 2019 in Glasgow about approaches we could take in our society
to reduce inequality in the workplace, as well as outside of it. While I am not
a member of any underrepresented group in our community, I stand as a strong
ally to all causes aimed at creating a vibrant, nondiscriminatory environment
professor, Aarhus University
Simona Radutoiu leads a research group focused on studies of
interactions established between plants and the large diversity of surrounding
microbes. Her team uses genetic and molecular tools to decipher the role of
plant components in establishing symbiotic associations with beneficial
bacteria and fungi or pathogenic associations with detrimental microorganisms.
The aim is to use contrasting associations and microbial environments of
increasing complexities (single microbes–>tailored microbial consortia–>soil
complex microbiota) to understand how plants use their distinct genetic tools
to select and accommodate beneficial microbes in their roots and rhizosphere.
Our long-term goal is to use our basic understanding to improve the ability of
plant crops to select, associate, and benefit from these microbial interactions
in sustainable agriculture that limits the use of chemical pollutants.
Simona's team consists of bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. degree
students, postdocs, technicians, and visiting scholars and receives funding
from targeted grants (Novo Nordisk and Independent Research Fund Denmark) and
larger consortia (InRoot and ENSA). We are always open for discussions about our
work. Please contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested
in hearing more about our research.
The 2022 MPMI special issue will focus on the next question of
importance identified by the community—Top 10 question number 2: What Is the
Role of the Abiotic Environment on the Interactions Between Plants and
Microbes? Learn more.
The MPMI journal is now included in the Directory of Open Access
Journals (DOAJ)! The community-driven DOAJ indexes and provides access to high-quality,
open access, peer-reviewed journals from around the world. The DOAJ database
includes more open access journals than any other major indexing service and
currently represents 80 languages, 126 countries, and 11,775 journals.
MPMI's admittance to
the database confirms its compliance with many open access initiatives around
the world, including Plan S in Europe and Capes/Qualis in Brazil, that may
require authors to publish in journals that meet the requirements of the DOAJ.
The journal will also be more discoverable, with increased visibility in search
Learn more about DOAJ or the MPMI journal.
Sources: https://doaj.org/apply/why-index and https://doaj.org