2021 - Issue 2

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Jun 14
Interactions Issue 2, 2021
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Many of our colleagues are disabled or have chronic illnesses that may limit their access to information provided during presentations. Breanne Kisselstein, 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.
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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.
 
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.
 
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.
 
Abstract submission will reopen early next week for the July and December 2021 IS-MPMI Congress: eSymposia Series dates.
 
The USWBSI has launched its FY22 funding cycle. Instructions for submitting a letter of intent and/or pre-proposal are available on the website. 
 
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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!

Jun 14
Helpful Tips for Making Presentations Accessible, from Your Disabled Colleagues
Breanne Kisselstein, Ph.D. Candidate Plant Pathology, Cornell University

Breanne Kisselstein (She/Her/Hers)
Ph.D. Candidate Plant Pathology, Cornell University
DeafBlind, Invisible Chronic Illness, and Guide Dog User

Chelsea Newbold, M.S. Plant Pathology, Oregon State University

Chelsea Newbold (They/Them/Theirs)
M.S. Plant Pathology, Oregon State University
Low Vision and Anxiety

Sarah Boggess (She/Her/Hers), Research Coordinator, University of Tennessee
Sarah Boggess (She/Her/Hers)
Research Coor​dinator, University of Tennessee
Spinal Muscular Atrophy and Power Wheelchair User​

Breanne Kisselstein, Chelsea Newbold, and Sarah Boggess

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 slideshow presentations.

  • 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

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 link!

Additional Resource Links

  1. American Public Health Association – Accessible Poster Presentations

  2. CMD-IT – Presentation and Poster Accessibility

Oral Presentations

In-Person Presentations

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 following guidelines:

  • Give your slides to disabled audience members, captionists, and interpreters ahead of the presentation.

  • 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 pathogens."

  • 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.

  • Repeat audience questions using the microphone so that all listeners can hear the question.

Online Presentations

Online presentations and on-demand content are likely to become more common as we phase back into in-person mee​tings 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 interpreter beforehand.

  • 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 are available.)

Additional Resource Links

  1. VENNGAGE – How to Create Accessible Designs

  2. DLF – Delivering Presentations and Facilitating Discussion

  3. EuroPlanet Science Conference – Oral Presentation Guidelines

  4. Do-It – Equal Access: Universal Design of Your Presentation

Social Media

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:

Twitter

  • ​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.

  • Follow @AltTxtReminder to receive reminders when you post something without alt text, so you can quickly delete and repost with alt text.

Instagram/Facebook

  • Proactively and retroactively add alt text to all posts.

  • Include image 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.

Others

  • 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.

Additional Resource Links

  1. AbilityNet – How to Do Accessible Social Media

  2. Twitter – How to Make Images Accessible for People

  3. OtterAI – Generate Live Transcripts

Acknowledgments

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.

Jun 14
Summarizing Your Research in Just a Few Minutes

Smiling man standing in front of a table of potatoes, with people talking in the background. He is wearing a button.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 35 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:

  1. ​Intro, your name, who you are – Approximately 10 seconds.

  2. What's the hook? Why should someone listen to you and be interested in your research? – Approximately 20–30 seconds.

  3. 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.

  4. Summarize the impact of your work. Why is it important, and how will it guide future research? – Approximately 20–30 seconds.

  5. 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.

01Halterman_graphic.jpgKnow 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 interactions.

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 Audience)

You are familiar with many terms that we use like a second language in MPMI, such as hypersensitive response, effector, necrotroph, Arabidopsis, and Nicotiana, 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.

Use Analogies

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 circlesall 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.

PausesareGOOD. 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?,” etc.

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.​

Jun 14
Plant Health 2021 Online Preview: A Conversation with Keynote Speaker Professor Sheng-Yang He
Jim Bradeen, APS Internal Communications Officer

01He_photo.jpgIt 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 agriculture.

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 Conditions," 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 r​esearch 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.

Jun 14
InterView with Dr. Jonathan Jones
02Schuster_photo.jpg
Dr. Mariana Schuster
02Jones_photo.jpg

Dr. ​Jonathan Jones (Photo courtesy JIC Photography)

Dr. Mari​ana 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. 

D​r. Jon​athan Jones

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 commented.

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 function.

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 Science.

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 effector-triggered-immunity (ETI).

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."

References

  1. ​From physics and chemistry to plant biology. Plant Physiology (nih.gov)

  2. Isolation of the tomato Cf-9 gene for resistance to Cladosporium fulvum by transposon tagging. Science (sciencemag.org)

  3. Plant pathogens and integrated defence responses to infection. Nature (nature.com)

  4. Cladosporium Avr2 inhibits tomato Rcr3 protease required for Cf-2-dependent disease resistance. Science (sciencemag.org)

  5. Expression of the Bs2 pepper gene confers resistance to bacterial spot disease in tomato. PNAS (pnas.org)

  6. A pigeonpea gene confers resistance to Asian soybean rust in soybean. Nature Biotechnology (nature.com)

  7. Accelerated cloning of a potato late blight-resistance gene using RenSeq and SMRT sequencing. Nature Biotechnology (nature.com)

  8. Rapid cloning of disease-resistance genes in plants using mutagenesis and sequence capture. Nature Biotechnology (nature.com)

  9. The plant immune system. Nature (nature.com)

  10. Mutual potentiation of plant immunity by cell-surface and intracellular receptors. Nature (nature.com)

​​
Jun 14
InterView with Dr. Wenbo Ma
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 Yeram Hong
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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.

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Dr. Wenbo Ma
Yeram Hong and Jennifer D. Lewis

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 fortunate:

I'm 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 professional. I'm 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:

Eventually, 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:

It's 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 pathogenic bacteria.

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 opportunitiesas 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.

Jun 14
InterView with Dr. Kimberly Webb
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Ani Chouldjian
02LewisLab.jpg
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.
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Dr. Kimberly W​​ebb
Ani Chouldjian and Jennifer D. Lewis

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

Dr. Kimberly 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 5060% 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 producers everywhere."

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,

My farmers' 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."

On 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 do."

Jun 09
InterFace: Meet the New IS-MPMI Committee for Diversity and Inclusion

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 socio-economic status.

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

03Oldroyd_photo.jpgProf. 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 Brian Staskawicz 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.

When I 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.

03Baldrich_photo.jpgPatricia Baldrich
Postdoctoral Researcher, 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 environment.

03Bolaji_photo.jpgAyooluwa Bolaji (She/Her)
Research Scientist, 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.

03Ditengou_photo.jpgFranck Ditengou (He/Him)
Lecturer, University of Freiburg

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.

03HerreraVasquez_photo.jpgAriel Herrera Vásquez (He/Him)
Postdoc, Millennium 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 community.

03RoussinLéveillée_photo.jpgCharles Roussin-Léveillée (He/Him)
Ph.D. student, University of Sherbrooke

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 for all.

03Radutoiu_photo.jpgSimona Radutoiu
Associate 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 (radutoiu@mbg.au.dk) if you are interested in hearing more about our research.

Jun 09
Submit Your Research by July 24 for Inclusion in the 2022 MPMI Focus Issue

04MPMI_FocusIssue2022.jpg

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.

Jun 09
The MPMI Journal Accepted by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

MPMI_2021Cover.jpgThe 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 engines.

Learn more about DOAJ or the MPMI journal.

Sources: https://doaj.org/apply/why-index and https://doaj.org

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