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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. ( 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 ( if you are interested in hearing more about our research.

Dec 17
InterFaces: Michael J. Trinick: An Appreciation and Insight into Discovery
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

Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology and Molecular Biology Institute, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095 U.S.A.

The James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee DD2 5DA, U.K.

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! 


Akkermanns, A. D. L., Abdulkadir, S., and Trinick, M. J. 1978. N2-fixing root nodules in Ulmaceae: Parasponia or (and) Trema spp.? Plant Soil 49:711-715.

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

Vincent, J. M. 1970. A manual for the practical study of root nodule bacteria. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Scientific.

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