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.
Editor's Note: InterFaces is a new section of Interactions that recognizes scientists who have contributed to our field.
Ann M. Hirsch,1 Euan K. James,2 and Janet I. Sprent3
1 Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology and Molecular Biology Institute, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095 U.S.A.
2 The James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee DD2 5DA, U.K.
3 Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh, 20a Inverleith Row, Edinburgh EH3 5LR, U.K.
Science is based on discovery, but often, the awards and kudos go to the scientists who take the initial findings of others to the point at which they become canon. Yet without the initial discovery and the research that enabled it, our understanding of the intricacies of nature would be incomplete. Science needs pioneers who undertake the study of various phenomena not because they are fashionable or fundable but because the pioneers are curious and want to learn more about the world around them.
Until 2001, only the alpha-proteobacteria (specifically, Rhizobium sensu lato) were known to nodulate legumes. The discovery that year by Moulin et al. (2001) that beta-proteobacteria (specifically, Burkholderia) nodulated legumes generated a great deal of excitement. Numerous investigators looked for more strains, plant assays were performed, and genomes were sequenced. Why had this group of nodulating bacteria, called “beta-rhizobia,” been overlooked? Some thought it was because the two nodulating strains described in Moulin et al. were isolated from Papilionoid legumes growing in the Fynbos of South Africa or in the tropical forests of French Guiana and because so few studies had been made in either country. This is partly true. However, Burkholderia strains were isolated from Mimosoid legume nodules much earlier than the Fynbos and French Guiana representatives but not from Africa or South America. Michael J. Trinick, who graduated in Agricultural Science (BSc Agr; majoring in soil microbiology) from the University of Sydney in 1958 was the first to isolate them from legumes growing in Papua New Guinea, and he gave the strains to Ivan Kennedy of the same university. These strains, some of which were reported as effective “Rhizobium” symbionts of Mimosa in Trinick (1980), were later described in detail as Mimosa-nodulating Burkholderia and Cupriavidus strains (Elliot et al., 2007, 2009).
Trinick conducted studies using serology and various other characteristics of the bacteria, such as vitamin requirements and carbohydrate utilization, and from them, he discovered that nodules isolated from plants growing in poor soils contained bacteria other than Rhizobium sensu stricto. However, Vincent (1970) cautioned readers against isolating nonrhizobial contaminants from nodules. Could this warning have influenced an avenue of discovery that was not publishable until 2001? It seems likely. Furthermore, after Burkholderia species were first isolated from legume nodules, a number of researchers were concerned that they might be closely related to mammalian and plant pathogens, because this genus is well known for its virulence on both plants and humans. However, phylogenetic studies using 16S RNA (Gyaneshwar et al., 2011) and multilocus sequence analysis (MLSA) (Estrada de-los Santos et al., 2013) separated the symbionts from the pathogens, and based on these studies and others, many species were categorized into two new genera: namely, Paraburkholderia (Sawana et al., 2014) and Caballeronia (Dobritsa and Samadpour, 2016). Our most recent effort was to separate a distinct subgroup of nonpathogenic species into a new genus, which we named Trinickia, after Michael Trinick (Estrada-de los Santos et al., 2018).
Trinick also made other important discoveries. After graduating from the University of Sydney, he joined the Department of Agriculture, Stock, and Fisheries in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in 1959 in the plant pathology department. After extensive research into the tropical legumes of this region, he received an MS in agriculture from the University of Sydney in October 1966. At this time, he discovered the promiscuous Rhizobium strain NGR234, which nodulates an exceptionally broad range of legume species. This finding led to many discoveries about variations in genetic factors, such as the type 3 secretion system, which controls host specificity in the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis (Deakin and Broughton, 2009).
Trinick wrote his PhD thesis, “The Ecology of Rhizobium-Interactions between Rhizobium Strains and Other Soil Microorganisms,” after studying the influence of the soil microflora on the survival of strains of R. trifolii, R. meliloti, and R. lupini in the sandy soils of western Australia. He received his doctoral degree in 1970 from the University of Western Australia. While in Papua New Guinea, Trinick also discovered that a nonlegume, Parasponia (Cannabaceae), was nodulated by Rhizobium species. The original description was for a related species, Trema aspera (now cannabina) (Trinick, 1973), but it was later reported that the actual nodulating nonlegume was a sister species of Trema—namely, Parasponia parviflora Miq. (Akkermanns et al., 1978). Research on Parasponia species dominated his later studies at the CSIRO, Division of Plant Industry and Land Management. Investigations with C. A. Appleby, J. B. Whittenburg, B. A. Whittenburg, A. A. Kortt, D. J. Goodchild, and others set up a baseline for studies on this unexpected symbiosis between a no-legume and a Rhizobium strain. Trinick’s discoveries opened new doors to study the evolution of symbiotic nitrogen fixation and the possibility of transferring nodulation ability to other nonlegumes (Van Vetzen et al., 2018).
The discoveries of (1) strain NGR234 and (2) the different behaviors of fast-growing versus slow-growing rhizobial strains and their beta-rhizobia counterparts, as well as (3) detailed studies on Parasponia, established a solid foundation upon which many more recent investigations have been established and future studies will be based. Three cheers and many thanks to Michael Trinick for three incredible breakthroughs in symbiotic nitrogen fixation!
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Deakin, W. J., and Broughton, W. J. 2009. Symbiotic use of pathogenic strategies: Rhizobial protein secretion systems. Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 6:312-320. doi:10.1038/nrmicro2091
Dobritsa, A. P., and Samadpour, M. 2016. Transfer of eleven Burkholderia species to the genus Paraburkholderia and proposal of Caballeronia gen. nov., a new genus to accommodate twelve species of Burkholderia and Paraburkholderia. Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 66:2836-2846. doi:10:1094/ijsem.0.001065
Elliott, G. N, Chen, W. M., Chou, J. H., Wang, H. C., Sheu, S. Y., Perin, L., Reis, V. M., Moulin, L., Simon, M. F., and Bontemps, C. 2007. Burkholderia phymatum is a highly effective nitrogen‐fixing symbiont of Mimosa spp. and fixes nitrogen ex planta. New Phytol. 173:168-180. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2006.01894.x
Elliott, G. N., Chou, J.-H., Chen, W.-M., Bloemberg, G. V., Bontemps, C., Martínez- Romero, E., Velázquez, E., Young, J .P. W., Sprent, J. I., and James, E. K. 2009. Burkholderia spp. are the most competitive symbionts of Mimosa, particularly under N-limited conditions. Environ. Microbiol. 11:762-778.
Estrada-de los Santos, P., Vinuesa, P., Martínez-Aguilar, L., Hirsch, A. M., and Caballero-Mellado, J. 2013. Phylogenetic analysis of Burkholderia species by multilocus sequence analysis. Curr. Microbiol. 67:51-60.
Estrada-de los Santos, P., et al. 2018. Whole genome analyses suggest that Burkholderia sensu lato contains two further novel genera in the “rhizoxinica-symbiotica group” (Mycetohabitans gen. nov., and Trinickia gen. nov.): Implications for the evolution of diazotrophy and nodulation in the Burkholderiaceae. Genes 9:389. doi:10.3390/genes9080389
Gyaneshwar, P., Hirsch, A. M., Moulin, L., Chen, W. M., Elliott, G. N., Bontemps, C., Estrada-de los Santos, P., Gross, E., Bueno dos Reis Junior, F., Sprent, J. I., Young, J. P. W., and James, E. K. 2011. Legume nodulating β-proteobacteria: diversity, host range and future prospects. Mol. Plant-Microbe Interactions 24:1276-1288.
Moulin, L., Munive, A., Dreyfus, B., and Boivin-Masson, C. 2001. Nodulation of legumes by members of the β-subclass of Proteobacteria. Nature 411:948-950.
Sawana, A., Adeolu, M., and Gupta, R. S. 2014. Molecular signatures and phylogenomic analysis of the genus Burkholderia: Proposal for division of this genus into the emended genus Burkholderia containing pathogenic organisms and a new genus Paraburkholderia gen. nov. harboring environmental species. Front. Genet. 5:429. doi:10.3389/fgene.2014.00429
Trinick, M. J. 1973. Symbiosis between Rhizobium and the non-legume, Trema aspera. Nature 244:459-460.
Trinick, M. J. 1980. Relationships amongst the fast-growing rhizobia of Lablab purpureus, Leucaena leucocephala, Mimosa spp., Acacia farnesiana and Sesbania grandiflora and their affinities with other rhizobial groups. J. Appl. Bacteriol. 49:39-53.
Van Vetzen, R., Doyle J. J., and Guerts, R. 2018. A resurrected scenario: Single gain and massive loss of nitrogen-fixing nodulation. Trends Plant Sci. doi:10.1016/j.tplants.2018.10.005
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