Interactions

Sep 21
IS-MPMI Interactions – Issue 3, 2022
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IS-MPMI
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Issue 3 • 2022
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It is with great pleasure that I send you my first update as IS-MPMI president. My heartfelt thanks to Mary Beth Mudgett (IS-MPMI immediate past president), who helped IS-MPMI overcome enormous challenges during the pandemic; MPMI Editor-in-Chief Jeanne Harris, who has overseen the transformation of MPMI into a Gold Open Access journal; and our entire board for their service. Welcome as well to our two new junior members, Priya Sengupta and Goodluck Benjamin. I look forward to serving IS-MPMI and seeing you in person at 2023 IS-MPMI XIX in Rhode Island next July!
 
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Also in this issue...
To recognize the work of early-career scientists, the MPMI Editorial Board has implemented a new award series to honor the best papers published by student first authors. For 2021, Kyungyong Seong received the first place award for "Computational Structural Genomics Unravels Common Folds and Novel Families in the Secretome of Fungal Phytopathogen Magnaporthe oryzae." Zi-Hui Huang and Takemasa Kawaguchi received the second and third place awards, respectively.
 
IS-MPMI members Dr. Greg Martin and Dr. Blake Meyers have earned membership in the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Haesong Kim recently conducted an interview with Dr. Martin asking several questions about his research on the molecular basis of bacterial pathogenesis and the plant immune system, his mentors and inspiration, and his advice for early-career researchers.
 
Dr. Gitta Coaker has received the 2022 Noel T. Keen Award from The American Phytopathological Society for research excellence in molecular plant pathology. Her research group studies a variety of plant–pathogen interactions, with central research questions focusing on plant immune signaling and pathogen effector biology.
 
InterStellar: Interview with 2022 APS Ruth Allen Award Recipient Dr. Kiran Mysore
Dr. Kiran Mysore has received the 2022 Ruth Allen Award from The American Phytopathological Society. The 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. Steve Whitham has been named a 2022 Fellow of The American Phytopathological Society. This honor recognizes distinguished contributions to plant pathology in one or more of the following areas: original research, teaching, administration, professional and public service, and extension and outreach.
 
Dr. Xinnian Dong has received the 2022 Stephen Hales Prize from the American Society of Plant Biologists. It is a monetary award honoring the Reverend Stephen Hales for his pioneering work in plant biology and is given to an ASPB member who has served the science of plant biology in a noteworthy manner.
 
Earlier this year, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced the selection of 25 exceptional early-career scientists as 2022 Hanna Gray Fellows. This year's cohort of Fellows includes plant–microbe trainee Dr. Shanice Webster.
 
In 2020, Dr. Giles Oldroyd was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Leading up to the induction ceremony this summer, Dr. Oldroyd posted a Royal Society blog reflecting on his life experience as an openly queer person.
 
Aphanomyces root rot of sugar beet, caused by Aphanomyces cochlioides, occurs in all major growing regions. In their recently published paper, Botkin et al. generated a de novo genome assembly for A. cochlioides using both long- and short-read technologies, resulting in a more contiguous assembly than for other Aphanomyces spp. genomes. This resource will enable investigations into virulence mechanisms, evolutionary relationships, genetic diversity, and the development of specific detection assays.
 
Dominique Holtappels, Siva Sankari, Amelia Lovelace, Manish Tiwari, and Tiffany (Tiff) Mak have joined the MPMI Editorial Board as assistant feature editors. These creative individuals have two-year appointments to explore new ways to present and amplify journal articles.
 
To include the viewpoints of members-in-training in society decision making and congress planning, the IS-MPMI Board of Directors has added two new junior members. We are pleased to welcome Priya Sengupta and Goodluck Benjamin to the board!
 
MPMI proudly presents a special focus issue addressing the #2 top unanswered research question identified by the MPMI scientific community: How do aspects of the abiotic environment affect plant–microbe interactions, and conversely, how do plant–microbe interactions affect host response to abiotic stress?
 
Explore the Editor's picks from the June, July, and August issues of MPMI.
 
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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.

Sep 20
Letter from IS-MPMI President Roger Innes

D​ear IS-MPMI Member (past, present and future!),

It is with great pleasure that I send you my first update as IS-MPMI president. I want to start by giving my heartfelt thanks to Mary Beth Mudgett, who served as president from July 2019 through June 2022, a three-year period that presented enormous challenges to IS-MPMI, with the canceling (twice!) of our 2021 in-person congress in JeJu, Korea, and a rapid pivot to a series of virtual meetings that helped support us as a community of researchers during the pandemic. This pivot would not have been possible without the vision and hard work of Mary Beth. I would also like to thank Jeanne Harris, editor-in-chief of our society journal MPMI and IS-MPMI Board member. Thanks to Jeanne's determination and vision, MPMI has undergone a transformation under her tenure, becoming a Gold Open Access journal with outstanding visibility among the MPMI community. The series of free webinars featuring MPMI authors launched by Jeanne has been extremely successful, highlighting exciting research and promoting the careers of our authors.

IS-MPMI is run by a Board of Directors, which elects its own officers (president, treasurer, and secretary), with officers usually changing every two years, coinciding with our biannual in-person congress. Due to the cancellation of the 2021 congress, Mary Beth stayed on an extra year, focusing on our virtual symposia, including the recent Early Career Showcase. Mary Beth, thus, led the organizational efforts for multiple virtual meetings, representing a huge effort. Thank you, Mary Beth, for all that you have done for the IS-MPMI community! I also thank our entire board for their service, especially our junior board members, Patricia Baldrich (Donald Danforth Plant Science Center) and Charles Roussin-Leveille (Universite de Sherbrooke), who have brought lots of energy and new ideas to the board over the last three years. Indeed, the addition of junior members to the board has worked so well, we recently added two new junior board members, Priya Sengupta (University of Cologne) and Goodluck Benjamin (INRAE/Université Côte d'Azur). Both have been very active in science outreach, and we look forward to their contributions going forward.

The primary activity of IS-MPMI is planning for our biannual in-person congress. We are now in the thick of planning for 2023 IS-MPMI XIX, which will be held in Providence, RI, USA, July 16–20. Please mark your calendars for our first in-person meeting since Glasgow in 2019. We will be announcing our keynote and plenary speakers for this meeting in late September with the launch of the congress website.

New for the 2023 IS-MPMI Congress, we will be inviting proposals from the entire IS-MPMI community for concurrent sessions. By engaging all of you in our meeting planning process, we expect to generate a diverse and exciting lineup of concurrent sessions. We will also be encouraging new formats for these sessions, moving beyond a lineup of short PowerPoint presentations to formats that encourage active participation by attendees. We are really looking forward to seeing the proposals generated by you, the IS-MPMI community. Be on the look-out for the call for proposals in September.

This change aligns with IS-MPMI's participation in the NSF-funded ROOT&SHOOT research coordination network (RCN), which includes six other plant-focused scientific societies. Together, our goal is Rooting Out Oppression Together and SHaring Our Outcomes Transparently. As part of this effort, we will be examining all aspects of our congresses to make them more inclusive and welcoming to all.

Although the bi-annual meeting is a focus of our activities, membership in IS-MPMI provides many benefits beyond a discount to our meetings and publishing in MPMI, including access to our online community, IS-MPMIConnect, and our newsletter, IS-MPMI Interactions. If you have not already checked them out, please do so. If you are not already a member, or if your membership has lapsed, you can join/renew here.

Thank you for reading this long update. I look forward to serving IS-MPMI in the coming year and keeping you updated on IS-MPMI 2023. And, I especially look forward to seeing most of you in person in Rhode Island next July!

Sincerely,

Roger Innes, IS-MPMI President
Distinguished Professor of Biology
Indiana University Bloomington​

Sep 20
MPMI Editorial Board Awards Best Student Papers for 2021

To recognize the work o​f early-career scientists, the MPMI Editorial Board has implemented a new award series to honor the best papers published by student first authors. For 2021, the first place award goes to Kyungyong Seong for his paper "Computational Structural Genomics Unravels Common Folds and Novel Families in the Secretome of Fungal Phytopathogen Magnaporthe oryzae." Jeanne Harris, MPMI editor-in-chief writes, "The approach using structure modeling to identify effector families by their folded shape, rather than amino acid sequence, opens up a world of possibilities, not only in identifying new effectors, but also in understanding the evolution of effector families and functions, and, in the future, as a tool in immune receptor engineering. In addition, the paper was clearly and logically written, with implications and future uses of this approach clearly visualized and explained." Kyungyong will present his work in the What's New in MPMI Virtual Seminar Series in November. You can also learn more about Kyungyong and his work below.

The second place award for the top graduate student-authored MPMI paper goes to Zi-Hui Huang for the paper "A Small Cysteine-Rich Phytotoxic Protein of Phytophthora capsici Functions as Both Plant Defense Elicitor and Virulence Factor."

The third place award goes to Takemasa Kawaguchi for the paper "AKSF1 Isolated from the Rice-Virulent Strain Acidovorax avenae K1 Is a Novel Effector That Suppresses PAMP-Triggered Immunity in Rice."​

Name: Kyungyong Seong

Current Position: A third-year graduate student in the Ksenia Krasileva Lab at the University of California, Berkeley.

Education: B.S. degree in bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

Brief Bio: I started my study in plant immunity as an undergraduate student in Dr. Brian Staskawicz's lab at the University of California, Berkeley. My first project involved analyzing intracellular immune receptors (NLRs) across wild tomato species collected from South America. I was soon absorbed in exploring the complexity of plant genomes and decoding the history of plant survival against pathogens. After finishing my B.S. degree, I continued my research for the next three years in Dr. Staskawicz's lab in the Innovative Genomics Institute. I was influenced every day by great scientists with passion and diligence in their work and by the MPMI community striving to improve plant health. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to join the community as a genomics scientist to make contributions to plant pathology.

I started my Ph.D. program at UC Berkeley with my current supervisor, Dr. Ksenia Krasileva. We share the same viewpoint that interdisciplinary novel techniques could help elucidate diverse aspects of the plant–pathogen interaction. In our first lab meeting, I presented three ambitious goals I wanted to pursue in alignment with this vision: 1) elucidating effector evolution based on predicted structures; 2) engineering NLRs for novel recognition specificity against any effector targets; and 3) computationally predicting the interaction between effectors and their host targets. The computational structural genomics on the blast pathogen published in MPMI, together with the recently preprinted comparative study, completes the first chapter of my Ph.D. journey. I am happy to share the work with the community and am already excited for the new challenges I will soon encounter in protein design.

Sep 20
InterStellar: Interview with Dr. Greg Martin, Newly Elected Member of the National Academy of Sciences
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Dr. Greg Martin

Haesong Ki​​​​m

Two IS-MPMI members, Dr. Greg Martin and Dr. Blake Meyers, have earned membership in the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS; http://www.nasonline.org). NAS is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Currently, it has about 2,400 active members and 500 foreign associates. NAS recognizes achievement in science by election to membership and, with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine, provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.​

Dr. Blake Meyers

Dr. Blake Meyers is a principal investigator and member at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Dr. Meyers' group leads development and application of high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies to make fundamental discoveries about the biology of plants, including mechanisms of disease resistance, function and regulation of genomes, epigenetic mechanisms, and regulatory RNA. You can read the InterView with Dr. Meyers conducted by Dr. Ajayi Olaoluwa Oluwafunto in the last issue of Interactions.

Dr. Greg Martin

Dr. Greg Martin is the Boyce Schulze Downey Professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) and a professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) at Cornell University. At BTI, researchers in Dr. Martin's lab study the molecular basis of bacterial pathogenesis and the plant immune system. The long-term goal of his research is to use knowledge gained about the molecular basis of plant–pathogen interactions to develop plants with enhanced natural resistance to diseases.

Haesong Kim, Pohang University of Science and Technology, conducted an interview with Dr. Martin.

Q1. Much of your research focuses on Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato and its recognition in plants. What drew your interest in the Pseudomonas–tomato interaction?

Dr. Martin: I became interested in plant disease resistance while doing research for my master's degree in plant breeding. During that time, I spent a year in Malawi on a USAID-funded project to understand the biological and cultural forces that promoted the incredible genetic diversity seen in bean landraces in that country. As part of my work to study this diversity, I traveled all over the country, visited a lot of farms, and met with many subsistence farmers. That year there was a serious outbreak of halo blight disease on beans caused by Pseudomonas syringae pv. phaseolicola. The disease greatly reduced the bean harvest, and because this crop is a principal source of protein, it exacerbated the malnutrition of the farmers and their families. My interest in understanding plant–microbe interactions evolved from this experience. For my Ph.D. program, I studied the molecular basis of nitrogen fixation in Bradyrhizobium during its symbiosis with soybean. Around that time, it started to become apparent that the experimental resources and methods were becoming available to enable map-based cloning of genes in plants. When I started my postdoc position at Cornell with Steve Tanksley working on tomato, I was naturally drawn to using map-based cloning to go after a bacterial disease resistance locus. The Pto gene, which confers resistance to P. syringae pv. tomato, was known to be simply inherited and made a good target. Once Pto was identified, it opened up many questions about both bacterial pathogenesis and plant immunity, and that's kept me and my lab members busy for many years since!

Kim: It is fascinating to me how your interest in your research started, since I had little chance to travel to other countries to actually experience plant diseases and the threats caused by them. Also, you had been through different fields of plant science before your research on tomato disease resistance. It seems all those experiences contributed to your work in the end. I hope your story motivates people to engage in different work and extend their research field.

Q2. Many young scientists have role models who encourage them to pursue their careers. Did you also have a role model when you were a young scientist? Or, are there any colleagues who inspired you on your current projects?

Dr. Martin: I've been inspired by many people in my life, some of them historical. I grew up within walking distance of Michigan State University, and my brothers and I spent a lot of time in the gardens and woodlots on that campus. An early inspiration for me was Liberty Hyde Bailey, who was an MSU botanist in the early 1900s. For a time, I attended Liberty Hyde Bailey School in East Lansing and grew up hearing stories about his love of plants and his role in establishing and preserving natural areas, including the Cornell Botanic Gardens, which is just a short walk from my office now. I also read about and admired William Beal, another MSU professor, a pioneer in the development of hybrid corn, and the founder of the MSU botanic gardens. Learning about these plant biologists and spending time in the natural areas on the MSU campus sparked my interest in plants. In the early years of my career, I was inspired by many scientists, including Fred Ausubel, Noel Keen, Chris Lamb, Luis Sequeira, Steve Tanksley, Mike Thomashow, and Bud Ryan, all of whom welcomed me into the field and gave me opportunities, advice, and encouragement at key points. I've benefited greatly from and been inspired by my colleagues in the tomato genomics field, including Zhangjun Fei, Jim Giovannoni, Lukas Mueller, Susan Strickler, Joyce Van Eck, and Dani Zamir. By far my greatest inspiration over the past 20 years has been my colleague Alan Collmer here at Cornell. Our first project together involved the sequencing of the P. syringae pv. tomato DC3000 genome and its initial characterization, and then over the years, we collaborated on a series of fun projects focused on the Pseudomonas–tomato interaction. Alan's encyclopedic knowledge of plant-pathogen biology and insights about the field prompted me to extend some of my research to more bacterial-oriented questions. Most recently, I've been inspired by the great work of Jianmin Zhou (who happened to be my first postdoc) and Jijie Chai, whom I was fortunate to collaborate with many years ago when he was just starting to shift his attention to plant immunity. So, yes, I have been and continue to be inspired by a lot of people, and that has both motivated me and I hope made me a better scientist.

Kim: It would be extremely inspiring for you to have such a large number of people as your colleagues and collaborators! It also seems your interaction with those people led to fruitful results. I believe enabling the interactions between people would be one of the reasons why we keep a community like IS-MPMI after all. Community members are often eager to collaborate with people from distinct groups. In this sense, who or which group of scientists do you want to collaborate with in the future?

Dr. Martin: Looking forward, my lab will continue to strengthen our interactions with bioinformaticists since their knowledge and expertise are critical for our plans to use genome-enabled methods to identify novel genes underlying natural variations in plant immunity.

Q3. You have mentored numerous students and postdoctoral researchers during your career. What is your advice to early-career researchers for having successful interactions with their PI?

Dr. Martin: Well, it's very important for there to be clear and agreed upon expectations on the part of both the  principal investigator (PI) and the student or postdoc. In my case, over the years I've developed a one-page summary of my general expectations for postdocs and graduate students (which differ slightly). For both, this includes things like keeping up with the literature and acting in a collegial and supportive way with other lab members. For graduate students, I expect them to know and follow the guidelines of their graduate program, have regular meetings with their Ph.D. committee, and strike a good balance of coursework and research. For postdocs, I expect them to start developing a professional network, write the complete first draft of their papers, and attend and participate in at least one meeting per year. A recent trend that I think is great for postdocs, in particular, is to prepare an independent development plan (IDP). This gives them the opportunity to think about a comprehensive framework for what their career goals are and what specifically they want to accomplish in their postdoctoral training period. This document also helps the PI to understand and assist them in achieving these goals.

It's also important to recognize that everyone has their own optimal way of communicating with others. In my group, we have regular lab meetings and also "focus" meetings that involve smaller groups in the lab that are working on a related project. I have one day per week when I offer my lab members the opportunity to meet with me one-on-one for 30 minutes or so. We might use the time for an update on their research, troubleshooting experiments, discussion of a paper, or talking about their professional development. These one-on-one meetings allow both me and my lab members to get to know each other better and to be proactive in addressing any opportunities or problems.

Kim: It is inspiring for me that you try to have clear documentation of expectations and plans, which I believe greatly help both you and your students. It is also inspiring that you respect different ways of communication and afford some time to have "focus" meetings, since I often find it hard to take the time to interact with other people. I believe all the ideas you shared here would be of considerable help to students, postdocs, and PIs.

Q4. Your long history of contributions to plant science research was recently recognized by the National Academy of Sciences. Among your achievements, which would benefit society most?

Dr. Martin: Most of my research has been focused on fundamental questions related to how bacteria infect plants and how the plant immune system inhibits bacterial infection. This kind of work can be viewed as laying the foundation for future applications, many of which we probably can't anticipate now. I suppose my early work on map-based cloning contributed in various ways to the subsequent cloning of many resistance (R) genes and to the use of marker-assisted breeding to track R genes more easily in segregating populations. Currently, we're most excited about the possibility of using certain R genes to confer multiple disease resistance (Mdr). There are a few examples of this in the literature, including the Ptr1 NLR gene that we originally identified as conferring resistance to race 1 strains of P. syringae pv. tomato. The Ptr1 protein detects the activity of the effector AvrRpt2, which occurs in all sequenced race 1 P. syringae pv. tomato strains, so it could be useful, along with Pto, in controlling bacterial speck disease. Homologs of AvrRpt2 occur in other plant pathogens, including Ralstonia solanacearum, and we showed that, in fact, Ptr1 also confers resistance to this pathogen, which causes bacterial wilt, an important disease of tomato. Remarkably, Prof. Kee Hoon Sohn's lab at POSTEC, South Korea, recently discovered that Ptr1 also mediates recognition of a diverse array of other effectors, including AvrB, AvrBsT, AvrRpm1, and HopZ5. In collaboration with Dr. Alex Schultink at Fortiphyte, CA, it was found that Ptr1 also confers resistance to Xanthomonasperforans expressing AvrBsT, which causes bacterial spot disease. So, Ptr1 is an example of what we call an Mdr-NLR that could be broadly useful for controlling bacterial diseases of tomato. Ptr1 was cloned from Solanum lycopersicoides, a distant relative of tomato. In all tomato accessions we have looked at, Ptr1 is a pseudogene. This opens up the possibility of developing transgenic tomatoes expressing Ptr1 or of using CRISPR prime editing to "repair" the pseudogene. It's this sort of translational work that will probably most directly benefit society, since it could lead to decreased use of chemical controls and better management of plant diseases.

Kim: It is sometimes easy to forget how fundamental science contributes to our society. Without addressing questions like you pointed out, it would be impossible to come up with enhanced control of plant diseases. Also, the Ptr1 project is truly inspiring! It is always fun to work with genes harboring great potential for practical use. I hope Ptr1-based crop protection proves to be useful for our society. I also look forward to seeing follow-up studies on Ptr1.

Q5. From the first identification of NLR genes to the solution of the resistosome structure, there have been large improvements in the field of plant immunity. Which directions do you think this field will expand into in the future?

Dr. Martin: This could be the subject of a lengthy review, and in fact, there are several out there on this important topic; it's also addressed by the initiative to come up with and address the top 10 unanswered questions in MPMI. For me, one of the most exciting areas is the increasing use of structural biology approaches to understand how plants recognize pathogens and how that initial event is transmitted to activate the immune system. The discovery of the resistosome structure is a major step forward in this regard and will hopefully lead to new insights into how NLR proteins play a role in the proximal subsequent steps to activate immune signaling. Related to this question is the need to understand how the different aspects of the host immune system inhibit pathogen growth and disease formation. In my own lab, our future focus will be on the use of natural variation in cultivated and wild relatives of tomato and genome-enabled technologies to identify new components of the immune system. We are also interested in using genome editing to generate new variation to assist in the development of disease-resistant tomato varieties.

Kim: As a Ph.D. student, it is always encouraging to be reminded that there are still unanswered questions and that there are labs, including yours, eagerly aiming to answer those questions. I hope our field continues to grow and present more questions for new researchers.​

Sep 20
InterStellar: Interview with 2022 APS Noel T. Keen Award Recipient Dr. Gitta Coaker
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Dr. Gitta Coaker (center) receives the APS Noel T. Keen A​ward, with Dr. Mark Gleason (left) and APS Immediate Past President Dr. Amy Charkowski (right).

Dr. Gitta Coaker

Dr. Gitta Coaker, University of California-Davis, received the Noel T. Keen Award from The American Phytopathological Society for research excellence in molecular plant pathology. Nominees have made outstanding contributions and demonstrated sustained excellence and leadership in research that significantly advances the understanding of molecular a​spects of host–pathogen interactions, plant pathogens or plant-associated microbes, or molecular biology of disease development or defense mechanisms.​

Q1. What area(s) of molecular plant–microbe interactions do you feel your research has impacted most?

Science is a team effort. I have been fortunate to work with bright and motivated scientists throughout my career. I am most proud of training the next generation of scientists, who are making impactful discoveries in a variety of career paths. My group studies a variety of plant–pathogen interactions, but our central research questions focus on plant immune signaling and pathogen effector biology. Our most impactful research over the years focuses on plant immune perception and signaling for both intracellular and surface-localized immune receptors. We have contributed to how plant NLR receptors recognize effectors and the role of kinases in fine-tuning plant immune responses.

Q2. What advice do you have for young scientists aspiring to achieve the level of science that has a major impact?

We are fortunate to be in a field with fascinating biological questions and clear links to the welfare of humankind. To make important discoveries, scientists need to study important problems. Science that has a major impact focuses on important biological questions and provides a foundational understanding that other groups use to drive research questions. I think it is important to always keep the biology of the plant and pathogen in mind. I encourage young scientists to spend time thinking about major unanswered questions or understudied areas in the field of plant–microbe interactions and how they fit with their expertise. It is also critical to always consider experimental design, controls, and reproducibility. Freely sharing reagents/materials, providing access to raw data/code, and posting preprints will also increase impact by allowing other scientists to validate and build upon discoveries.

Q3. When you were a postdoc, what had the largest influence on your decision to enter your specific research area in your permanent position? Was this a "hot topic" at the time, or did you choose to go in a different direction?

During my Ph.D. studies, my research focused on breeding for disease resistance in tomato. I dabbled in proteomics during the final year of my Ph.D. program and realized my passion for molecular plant pathology. I also benefitted from having excellent mentors in my Ph.D. (David Francis) and postdoc (Brian Staskawicz) programs. During my postdoc, I thought more deeply about my skill set and how I could contribute to answering important research questions. I brainstormed with Brian and other colleagues about future areas of research.

I was (and still am) fascinated with how plant immune receptors recognize pathogen invaders and how pathogen effectors drive host specificity. I get excited about mechanistic insights in plant–pathogen interactions. Plant immunity has always been a "hot topic" in MPMI, but it is also one of the keys to generating disease resistance in crops. I gained a lot of protein biochemistry experience as a postdoc and decided to focus on immune signaling when starting my lab at UC Davis. My group still studies immune signaling and effector biology. We have expanded the repertoire of plants and pathogens we investigate over time. I am also interested in the role of immunity and effectors in vectorborne disease and see this as an understudied area in MPMI.

Sep 20
InterStellar: Interview with 2022 APS Ruth Allen Award Recipient Dr. Kiran Mysore

Dr. Kiran​​ Mysore (center) is named the 2022 APS Ruth Allen Award recipient, with Dr. Mark Gleason (left) and APS Immediate Past Preside​nt Dr. Amy Charkowski (right).

Dr. Kiran Mysore

At the Plant Health 2022 meeting in Pittsburgh, PA, Dr. Kiran Mysore received the 2022 Ruth Allen Aw​​ard 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.​

Q1. What area(s) of molecular plant–microbe interactions do you feel your research has impacted most?

My research has impacted three different areas in molecular plant–microbe interactions:

Nonhost disease resistance: Nonhost disease resistance is believed to be the most durable form of disease resistance. Little is known about the mechanism(s) of nonhost resistance. Based on the survey at the previous IS-MPMI meeting, nonhost resistance was one of the top 10 unanswered questions in MPMI. My laboratory has contributed to this field by identifying several plant genes that play a critical role in nonhost disease resistance using model plants such as Nicotiana benthamiana, Arabidopsis thaliana, and Medicago truncatula.

Agrobacterium–plant interaction: Agrobacterium-mediated plant transformation is the most preferred form of plant transformation in both academia and industry. However, several plant species and crop varieties are recalcitrant to transformation. To better understand the Agrobacterium-mediated plant transformation, my laboratory has identified and characterized several plant genes that are important for transformation. We have also studied the role of plant defense responses against Agrobacterium and strategies to suppress plant defense responses to enhance transformation.

Symbiosis in legumes: Legume-rhizobia symbiosis (to fix atmospheric nitrogen) and legume-arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis (for uptake of phosphorous) are important for sustainable agriculture. Even though my laboratory doesn't work on symbiosis, we have significantly contributed to understanding symbiosis by providing the tools. We have developed a large collection of transposon (Tnt1) insertion lines in the model legume M. truncatula that has been used all over the world to study legume symbiosis.

Q2. What advice do you have for young scientists aspiring to achieve the level of science that has a major impact?

My advice to young scientists is to look beyond their own research project. New ideas often come when people read manuscripts that are outside of their own research or comfort zone. Another piece of advice to young scientists is to make sure to publish their findings. Some young scientists do good research but fail to publish. This is a waste of tax payers' money, and someone else may waste their valuable time and resources to reinvent the wheel.

Q3. When you were a postdoc, what had the largest influence on your decision to enter your specific research area in your permanent position? Was this a "hot topic" at the time, or did you choose to go in a different direction?

During my postdoc studies, I worked on R gene-mediated disease resistance in tomato. During that time, farmers started to realize that a single R gene-mediated resistance was not durable in the field. For example, the UG99 strain of wheat stem rust was identified during that time and became popular in the media. An R gene that provided resistance against wheat stem rust for more than 30 years was broken down. This motivated me and got me interested in durable disease resistance. Nonhost resistance, which was not well studied at that time, caught my attention, and I decided to work on that in my permanent position. Effector biology was the hot topic during that time, and the field was getting crowded. I chose a different direction to work on nonhost resistance that was not a hot topic at the time.

Sep 20
InterStellar: Interview with 2022 APS Fellow Honoree Dr. Steve Whitham

Dr. Steve Whitham (center) is named an APS Fellow, with Dr. Mark Gleason (left) and APS Immediate Pa​st President Dr. Amy Charkowski (right).

Dr. Steve Whitham​​​

At the Plant Heath 2022 meeting in Pittsburgh, PA, Dr. Steve Whitham, Iowa State University, was named a 2022 Fellow of The American Phytopathological Society. This honor recognizes distinguished contributions to plant pathology in one or more of the following areas: original research, teaching, administration, professional and public service, and extension and outreach.​

Q1. What area(s) of molecular plant–microbe interactions do you feel your research has impacted most?

Maybe four different areas: NBS-LRR resistance genes; host–virus interactions, especially from the host response perspective; host–rust fungus interactions, from both the host response side and characterization of candidate effector proteins; and engineering viruses for doing useful things in crop species.

Q2. What advice do you have for young scientists aspiring to achieve the level of science that has a major impact?

Find questions that excite you and that address important gaps in the field, keep an open mind to new ideas and areas of research and try to make connections to how they can be applied to your project(s), and seek out collaborators who complement your skill set and expertise. Develop your soft skills, learn how to work effectively in teams, and try to find a good work–life balance.​

Q3. When you were a postdoc, what had the largest influence on your decision to enter your specific research area in your permanent position? Was this a "hot topic" at the time, or did you choose to go in a different direction?

At the time I was a postdoc, the mechanisms of gene silencing were being sorted out, and the concept of virus-induced gene silencing as a fast-forward genetics approach was developed. This coincided with the first plant genomes becoming available and the development of microarray technologies for genome-wide mRNA transcript profiling, as well as proteomics. The confluence of these developments got me very interested in functional genomics and how these approaches could be applied to help us to understand the networks of genes that underlie plant–pathogen interactions.


Sep 20
InterStellar: Interview with 2022 ASPB Stephen Hales Prize Awardee Dr. Xinnian Dong

At the Plant Biology 2022 meeting in Portland, OR, Dr. Xinnian Dong, Duke University, received the Stephen Hales Prize from the American Society of Plant Biologists. This award honors the Reverend Stephen Hales for his pioneering work in plant biology published in his 1727 book Vegetable Staticks. It is a monetary award established in 1927 for an ASPB member who has served the science of plant biology in some noteworthy manner.

In addition to responding to the questions below, Dr. Dong recently completed a Q&A piece with Current Biology in which she addressed many questions that may be of interest to readers of IS-MPMI Interactions.

Q1. What area(s) of molecular plant–microbe interactions do you feel your research has impacted most?

One of my former postdocs told me that my lab's research is more about understanding how plants turn off immunity than activating immunity. Even though this description is not completely correct, it emphasizes my research interest in how organisms avoid self-damage during a defense response. To satisfy this interest, the study of plant immune systems has great advantages over animal immune systems given that plant immune responses are activated in coordination through sophisticated regulatory mechanisms with other cellular functions, whereas animals have specialized cells designated to perform only immune functions. Indeed, in the past 30 years, my lab has discovered immune regulations at transcriptional, translational, cellular, and organismal levels involving processes such as protein secretory, DNA damage repair, and circadian and redox rhythms that integrate environmental factors such as humidity. Even the NPR1 protein that my lab has identified and studied all these years seems to have the do-it-all role in plants. In addition to inducing the expression and secretion of a wide range of stress proteins to confer systemic acquired resistance, it also manages the homeostasis of these stress proteins by forming biomolecular condensates to resolve the immune response to ensure cell survival under stress conditions. This single protein has kept me frustrated and fascinated for all these years!

What sustained my enthusiasm toward this line of research is its potential in developing new strategies for engineering crops with broad-spectrum disease resistance. I believe that broad-spectrum disease resistance should be a major goal for future crop engineering because it takes out the guesswork for consumers. (Can you imagine buying health insurance for just one disease?) In this direction, my lab has made a conceptual breakthrough by showing that broad-spectrum disease resistance can be achieved without the associated fitness cost in field-grown rice by making the translation of NPR1 pathogen-inducible. This was achieved using the 5' leader sequence of the mRNA encoding a transcription factor known as TBF1, the translation of which is normally repressed under nonstress conditions to avoid cell lethality, but is rapidly and transiently induced upon pathogen challenge. We demonstrated that mRNA 5' leader sequences, such as the one from TBF1, are easy, but effective, engineering targets for controlling protein production.

Q2. What advice do you have for young scientists aspiring to achieve the level of science that has a major impact?

Find time to think. Sunday afternoons in the office and each morning before getting out of bed are my quiet time to think. Even though we are in an information age, our brains have yet to evolve new ways of thinking. Therefore, the old way still works best. To find a potentially good research project requires serious consideration, patience, and opportunities. Sometimes, a project has great potential, but the tools are not there yet to bring it to fruition. This is when patience is needed. In the end, many impactful discoveries are made under unexpected circumstances. One common ingredient for these chance discoveries is the preparedness of the scientist.

Q3. When you were a postdoc, what had the largest influence on your decision to enter your specific research area in your permanent position? Was this a "hot topic" at the time, or did you choose to go in a different direction?

When I was a postdoc, the "hot topic" at the time was the cloning of "R genes," which mediate the so-called gene-for-gene resistance. I was not involved in this effort because I was concerned that the resistance loci found in different crop species against a diverse array of pathogen signals might encode random proteins that were only discovered in agriculture due to the use of monocultures. Instead, I was interested in searching for and studying "basic" immune mechanisms in plants, which turned out to be systemic acquired resistance and pattern-triggered immunity. I wanted to find common plant defense mechanisms that are not specific to a pathogen signal. Of course, I was pleasantly surprised and excited when R genes were cloned and found to encode proteins with conserved structures.

After 30 years, the MPMI field is now a well-established discipline. Newcomers will have to think harder to identify a research direction in which their current expertise can give them an advantage, while their lack of training in the MPMI field is not a big enough obstacle to prevent them from getting started. We need newcomers to keep the field young.​​

Sep 20
InterStellar: Shanice Webster named 2022 HHMI Hanna Gray Fellow

Earlier this year, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced the selection of 25 exceptional early-career scientists as 2022 Hanna Gray Fellows. This year's cohort of Hanna Gray Fellows includes a plant-microbe trainee, Dr. Shanice Webster, at Duke University.​

From the HHMI website: Shanice Webster is mentored by Sheng Yang He and is examining tritrophic interactions among plants, pathogens, and the microbiome to uncover the general principles and mechanistic underpinnings of how pathogens and the microbiome influence each other in plant pathogenesis. Understanding these interactions is critical to understanding disease at a holistic level. Given the importance of plant–microbe interactions to plant health and food security, Webster hopes that her study can lead to new insights and methods of disease interventions to improve global sustainability in the face of climate change.

The program is named for Hanna Holborn Gray, former chair of the HHMI Board of Trustees and former president of the University of Chicago. Under Gray's leadership, HHMI developed initiatives that foster diversity and inclusion in science education. HHMI continues to carry forward this work on college and university campuses across the United States.

Fellows receive funding for their postdoctoral training and may continue to receive funding during their early career years as independent faculty. In total, Fellows may receive up to $1.4 million each and be supported for up to eight years. In keeping with HHMI's ethos of supporting "people, not projects," Fellows will have the freedom to follow their curiosity and study the scientific questions that matter most—changing direction as needed—for the duration of the award.

A competition for the next group of Hanna Gray Fellows opens immediately. In 2023, the Institute will again select up to 25 Fellows. This grant competition is open to all eligible applicants, and no nomination is required. Applicants may obtain more information and eligibility requirements at www.hhmi.org/hanna-h-gray-fellows. The deadline for applications is December 7, 2022, at 3:00 p.m. (ET). The selection of Fellows will be made by late June 2023.

Sep 20
InterStellar: Dr. Giles Oldroyd reflects on 50 years of Pride and STEM

In 2020, Dr. Giles Oldroyd, the Russell R Geiger Professor of Crop Science, director of the Crop Science Centre, and group leader at the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge, was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. You can read the interview with Dr. Oldroyd in a past issue of Interactions. Leading up to the induction ceremony this summer, Dr. Oldroyd posted a Royal Soci​ety blog reflecting on his life experience as an openly queer person.​

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