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Dec 18
MPMI InterView with Prof. Adam Bogdanove

Pritha Kundu​

Pritha Kundu is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), USA, with Prof. Joe Louis, investigating the molecular intricacies mediating crop defense physiology against a wide range of pests, with particular interest in the monolignol biosynthetic pathway. She pursued her Ph.D. degree from the Indian Institute for Science, Education and Research (IISER-Kolkata) in wheat fungal pathogenesis, deciphering the phytohormonal crosstalk and the regulatory transcription factors providing resistance. Later, she moved on to study insect calcium signaling and the role of different calcium nucleotide gated channels (CNGCs) and their interaction with the eATP receptor molecule, DORN1 in Arabidopsis–Spodoptera litura herbivory with Dr. Jyothilakshmi Vadassery at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR), New Delhi, India. Her major interest lies in deciphering the key components of the plant defense system that modulates its growth-defense trade off against pests and pathogens.

Adam Bogdanove is presently a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell University, with a major research focus on understanding the TAL effectors and their targets in diseases of rice and other crop plants caused by Xanthomonas spp. TAL effectors are those transcription factors that are injected by the bacterium into the host cell, which in resistant host varieties target genes that block disease progression. Bogdanove was one of the discoverers of the modular mechanism by which the TAL effectors recognize specific DNA sequences (the others being co-author Matthew Moscou and, in a simultaneous publication, a group led by Jens Boch and Sebastien Schornack in Ulla Bonas’ lab at the time). Bogdanove’s lab also established computational models to identify key TAL effector binding sites in complex plant genomes. With more than 62 publications and 21,000 citations, Bogdanove also helped pioneer the use of TAL effectors as customizable DNA-targeting tools for applications like targeted gene regulation and genome editing.

It was my pleasure to host an interview with Prof. Bogdanove, which is detailed below, and I want to thank MPMI for this exclusive opportunity.

My interest in Prof. Bogdanove's long journey from Yale to Japan—he was an English instructor there—to Purdue, Iowa, and now Cornell prompted me to ask him whether it was a strategic move or happened one move after another. Bogdanove remembered his years in Japan as very formative, and he decided then to start his work on a long-standing interest in environmental protection and a newfound interest in agriculture and biotechnology and sort of merge the two in the late 1980s. At this inflection point in a field like plant pathology, plant breeding was interested in generating innovations that would ultimately reduce our dependence on agrochemicals. The intensive, but limited, agricultural facilities (limited land), triggered in him the interest to apply for graduate school at Cornell University. When questioned about the struggles of life as a Ph.D. student, he mentioned that his rotation across three amazing labs at Cornell helped him immensely in choosing his Ph.D. lab, which had successfully purified the first microbial elicitor for hypersensitive reaction. He also mentioned that it was quite challenging to raise his three kids during graduate school but that the process was made smooth by his wife. ​He was particularly driven by some exciting ideas for research that kept him moving forward.

When asked about his entry into the field of TAL effectors and being one of the pioneers, he remembered the tremendous influence rice pathologist and friend Jan Leach had, the then recently published fully sequenced rice genome, and his strong interest in studying tissue specificity in plant–pathogen interactions. He decided to study the interactions of rice with the two pathovars (vascular and nonvascular)​ of X. oryzae—pv. oryzae and pv. oryzicola—infecting different plant tissues. His scientific interest revolved around two questions:

  • What determines tissue trophism for bacterial pathogens and plants?
  • Does the plant respond differently to these two pathovars?

He further developed an inoculation method for both pathovars and examined the differences that these pathovars had on reprogramming the plant transcriptome. The challenge was to connect the bacterial effectors to their targets, which led him to study the comparative genomics on the pathogen side and specifically to the detailed study of the largest effector family found in Xanthomonas spp., the AvrBs3/PthA or TAL (transcription activator-like) family. He then moved on to study individual TAL effectors targeting individual host genes, which ultimately led to the mechanism for TAL effector binding specificity. At a later stage, Bogdanove collaborated with Dan Voytas and others to develop TAL effector-based targeted nucleases for genome editing.

Bogdanove also suggested that being mindful and intentional helps in developing a research group with a strong foundation of research interests that keeps you moving. "Science is a social enterprise"; thus, building a strong network to gain information and facilitate collaborations is definitely helpful in the long run. When questioned about the struggles he faced while running his lab, he emphasized the importance of giving the freedom to young enthusiasts to be intellectual drivers who share the same interests and getting the lab funded. "Research can be stressful at times"; thus, he mentioned the acute importance of providing a healthy lab environment. Drive, curiosity, and intellectual leadership are essential components in each member that determine the success of an enterprise. An important challenge he faced was retraction of an article from his group, and he stressed the imperative to correct the literature openly and the importance of eliminating any stigma related to it.

When questioned about the critical factors in running a lab successfully, he emphasized the importance of creating a space in which people feel free to be critical of one another. Valuing one another's views is another important component that determines team success—the idea that everyone must critically look through the data and then give critical feedback. "There is an increased tendency to get medals for everyone," which he suggests is a generational issue and that we should be critical of our data and maintain a balance. He also stressed that celebrating lab successes and milestones together help you develop as a group.

When asked about work–life balance, he mentioned that's been very easy for him. He mentioned his family to be his most important hobby, besides gardening and hiking. He loves to spend quality time with his family. Presently, he is basking in the happiness of having his first 6-week-old grandchild.

When asked about the key advice he has for the scientific community, he suggested that we follow our dreams. To do something that wakes you up in the morning and does not let you sleep at night ("sometimes"). Something that interests you. Science is not a profession to pursue if you have no passion for it. Try to engage with the community and seek out help and be open with the science that you perform. Scientists all over the world are advocating for open science, which is essential for the development of the global scientific community. We are working together in this world to pull each other up, as he mentioned that our mentors and mentees should be our examples. He suggested all early-career researchers be an example for their mentees.

Altogether, it was a wonderful experience to interview Dr. Bogdanove, the new IS-MPMI president and be enlightened by his ideas for working together in a collaborative environment and being open with our science and scientific community as a whole.

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