2019 - Issue 4

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Dec 23
IS-MPMI Interactions - Issue 4, 2019
MPMI Interactions Issue 4 - 2019
Dr. Hailing Jin
A Message From IS-MPMI President, Mary Beth Mudgett
Mary Beth shares her goals for our society, highlights achievements we should celebrate,
and calls for our members to engage in conversations and propose action items that keep IS-MPMI a growing, diverse society.

Also in this issue...
Jim’s former mentor reflects on the life of a well-respected colleague
Many tributes to @jimalfano1 were quickly posted on Twitter from his many followers. Read on for a selection of those tweets.
Members of the Board of Directors (BOD) contribute to society leadership, decision making, and Congress planning by participating in month or bi-monthly BOD teleconferences, and assist in developing and soliciting content for IS-MPMI Interactions.
Read more about how you can get the word out about the impact plants have on our lives and the importance of plant health in ending hunger, reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and boosting economic development. 
InterConnections: A Reflection About Writing A Scientific Article for the MPMI journal
Robyn Roberts discusses career pathways and insights about publishing her work, “Mai1 Protein Acts Between Host Recognition of Pathogen Effectors and Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Signaling.”
Mentors play an important role in the success of students, postdocs, and other laboratory personnel, and both the mentor and the mentee share a responsibility to make their relationship productive and rewarding. Read on for a list of resources to help you enhance your mentoring capabilities.
We are always looking for content for Interactions. Please contact Interactions Editor-in-Chief Dennis Halterman with questions or article ideas.

​International Society for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions
3340 Pilot Knob Road, St. Paul, MN 55121
Phone: +1.651.454.7250 · Email: · Website:
Dec 20
A message from IS-MPMI President, Mary Beth Mudgett

Dear IS-MPMI members, dear friends,Mudgett.jpg

I am excited to serve as IS-MPMI president for the next 2 years. With your input, I aim to set new directions for our society. Toward that goal, I plan to revisit our society’s mission statement as it relates to our growing and diverse community. My aspiration is to combine core operational goals with strategic planning to leverage our science and its impact in multiple forums. To help facilitate this, I call on you as members to engage in conversationsboth within your institutions and within your national and international networksthat refocus our aspirations as a society and to propose action items that we can collectively execute during the coming years.

Let me express my tremendous gratitude to our colleagues who delivered an exciting congress program last summer in Glasgow. Many thanks to Paul Birch and John Jones and to Immediate Past President Regine Kahmann for their leadership! We look forward to the upcoming IS-MPMI Congress in Jeju, Korea, in 2021. We plan to have another exciting meeting in a very attractive venue that’s sure to highlight the diversity of MPMI research and researchers.

Even though the meeting is still 2 years away, I encourage you to contemplate possible candidates for our prestigious prizes in 2021: The IS-MPMI Award and the IS-MPMI Young Investigator Award. I welcome emails highlighting the achievements within our community. You bring much to our foundational knowledge, translational accomplishments, training, outreach, and more, and we want to learn about your accomplishments and the efforts that impact our international communities. This year, we recognized Brian Staskawicz (University of California, Berkeley), who received The IS-MPMI Award, and Katharina Markmann (University of Tübingen), who received the IS-MPMI Young Investigator Award​. Congratulations to you both!

Importantly, you should know that the society has moved to a new model regarding congress site selection. Although we still welcome your suggestions, the IS-MPMI staff will select the site to ensure that it’s within budget and will accommodate our growing membership. Staff will also oversee conference logistics. Once a site has been identified, a team of scientists will be identified and assembled. We are currently looking for a 2023 congress site and welcome both your suggestions and your input on this new selection process. The science and activities for the congress will remain the core responsibilities of the scientific organization committee. 

While our science is reaching new frontiers, we know that our members are facing challenges that impact our work and mission. We are conscious of the difficult economic situations in parts of the world, including issues regarding research funding, publication costs, open access to publications, and inequities within our communities. Some of these problems, we can help resolve as a society with the will to do so. An important initiative that you should know about is the Developing Countries Discounted Membership. Watch for more information about this important initiative.

The remarkable strengths that underlie IS-MPMI are its backbone of membership, ongoing research quality, and exceptional training of students. It’s important to note that our not-for-profit MPMI  journal and online forum Interactions are operated by devoted members of our society. The proceeds directly support our congress meetings and awards. The vitality and direction of our society thus depend on your continued membership and journal support.

As a reminder, your membership provides you with these benefits:

-A platform to share your science by participating in international congress meetings and/or publishing your manuscripts in the MPMI journal

-Opportunities to collaborate and network with the top scientists (both established and early investigators) in our niche field

-​Access to valuable knowledge distributed through the MPMI journal and Interactions

MPMI, spearheaded by Editor-in-Chief Jeanne Harris at the University of Vermont, is moving toward full open-access publishing (more updates soon), and “Technical Advances” and “Resource Announcements” are currently freely available to all readers. In addition, efforts have been made to simplify submission practices (single PDF for initial review) and offer discounts for members for publications. The “Top 10 Unanswered Questions of MPMI” drew strong enthusiasm in Glasgow. Watch for new articles relating to the “Top 10” in upcoming issues. In addition, MPMI now has an official podcast called Microgreens. This forum, hosted and produced by Raka Mitra, shares stories of microbes, plants, and the people who study them. Stay tuned for new clips!

Interactions, crafted by Editor-in-Chief Dennis Halterman at USDA–ARS in Wisconsin, continues to be a source of member news and views throughout the year. It includes InterViews between students and established experts in the field of plant–microbe interactions, articles about issues affecting the field, and other updates and society news. Interactions is always looking for new content. Please submit your stories and articles.

I hope that you continue to engage in the society by contributing to IS-MPMI. Enrolling in Auto-Renew will ensure that your membership never expires!

With your help, we can continue to be an enthusiastic and forward-thinking community. I look forward to hearing from you.


Mary Beth Mudgett

IS-MPMI President​

Dec 20
A Tribute to Jim Alfano From Colleague Alan Collmer

​​​Please also visit the tribute to Dr. Jim Alfano in the MPMI journal​.

James “Jim” Robert Alfano, 56, Charles Bessey Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), died Nov. 21, 2019, following a battle with cancer. Jim served 17 years with UNL, joining the faculty in 2002. He was named director of the Department of Plant Pathology’s undergraduate Microbiology program in 2011. He also served as a member of the University’s Center for Plant Science Innovation. Jim’s research focused on how bacteria pathogens that cause plant diseases differ from those in animals. Studies in his lab were specifically directed at understanding type III secretion systems, a specialized protein apparatus present in gram-negative bacteria pathogens in plants and animals. An official obituary for Jim can be found on the University Of Nebraska–Lincoln’s website

Jim was a well-respected and well-liked member of the IS-MPMI community. Below is a tribute from Jim’s former mentor, Alan Collmer, and a subsequent article includes a compilation of homages from friends and colleagues on social media. Both tributes exemplify the enormous impact that Jim’s science and personality has had on our research community during his career.

Jim Alfano as a postdoc at Cornell in 1993.

Alan Collmer (Cornell University, U.S.A): Jim Alfano was a giant in our field who made paradigmatic discoveries involving the Pseudomonas syringae type III secretion system (T3SS), the effectors it injects into plant cells during pathogenesis, and the functions of those effectors in virulence. Jim was a postdoc in my lab in the mid-90’s and then a coPI on an NSF Plant Genome Research Program functional genomics project I led in the early 2000’s. Over the years, my working relationship with Jim evolved from mentor, to intellectual partner, to grateful reporter of joint NSF project progress, to ultimately, an admiring reader of his lab’s many, major discoveries. But it was my friendship with Jim that I will treasure above all else. 

In his postdoctoral research, Jim confronted the paradoxical activities of the P. syringae hrp gene cluster in eliciting the hypersensitive response (HR) and in trafficking different classes of proteins. Jim’s careful observations revealed that harpins, though known to be abundantly secreted in culture by the Hrp system and capable of eliciting the HR as isolated proteins, are actually “helpers” in the delivery into plant cells of another class of proteins that we now know of as effectors. This insight shifted our research focus to the effectors and their systematic identification. Jim consequently led an effort to sequence the hrp gene cluster and flanking sequences in three model strains of P. syringae – a massive effort that Jim brought to completion with his new lab in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). This work revealed that hrp genes are part of a tripartite pathogenicity island that includes an exchangeable effector locus and a conserved effector locus harboring core, ancestral effector genes (with many more effector genes somewhere else in the genome). Jim’s work was key to revealing the primary function of the Hrp T3SS and its centrality in the evolution of P. syringae virulence. 

As our excitement with these discoveries shifted from primary observations to broader implications, Jim took the lead in spreading the word of the many advances being made with plant pathogenic bacteria.  The two of us accordingly wrote a series of review articles for Plant Cell (1996), Journal of Bacteriology (1997), the textbook Principles of Bacterial Pathogenesis (2001), and Annual Review of Phytopathology (2004). In meshing with Jim’s thinking in this process, I developed a deep respect for his intellect and his gift for seeing and saying things clearly and directly. Indeed, when I found myself writing my sections with the thought of meeting his standards, I realized that I now had a great colleague and that our field had a rising new star. In 1997 Jim started his own lab at UNLV, and then in 2000 moved to the Plant Science Initiative and Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). With his new lab, Jim began a career-long exploration of the environmental and genetic factors controlling the traffic of different classes of proteins through the T3SS and into plant cells. 

Jim’s pioneering work on the Hrp system was foundational to a 2000 multi-institutional award from NSF to sequence and study the genome of P. syringae pv. tomato (Pto) DC3000. As a coPI, Jim contributed to a remarkable 21 project-supported publications between 2002 and 2007. Three of the many publications that were led by his lab had particular impact. Petnicki-Ocwieja et al. (2002 PNAS) used an iterative approach involving experimental and computational methods to comprehensively identify effector genes in the DC3000 genome. Jamir et al. (2004 Plant Journal) revealed that several of the newly found effectors were suppressors of the HR. And, in work done entirely in Jim’s lab, Fu et al. (2007 Nature) discovered that one of the newly found effectors (HopU1) used ADP-ribosylation (an activity previously unknown for plant pathogens) to inhibit RNA-binding protein-dependent plant immunity. Jim’s lab also investigated host targets, biochemical activities, and subcellular localization of several other effectors. Finally, his group discovered important aspects of effector delivery by the T3SS, including the identification of chaperones for several effectors, the function of HrpK as a translocon component, and the dual activity of HrpJ, an extracellular T3SS component, in regulating substrate traffic and promoting virulence.

Jim was a scientist to his core, and he was fearless in using the best tools to get to the heart of hard problems. He also pulled

Image by Jim Alfano

​more than his weight for the larger scientific community as a highly respected member of multiple editorial boards and grant review panels and as a teacher and mentor to a new generation of students and postdocs. He was deservedly an elected fellow of several scientific societies and a recipient of multiple honors. However, as much as Jim will be missed for his scientific prowess, he will be missed so much more as a person of many dimensions.

Jim arrived in my lab in March 1993 in a Jeep more suited for southern California than upstate New York. Tall and athletic, he came with a big dog named Jake and an open enthusiasm for life and science. He initiated an annual March Madness NCAA Basketball pool in the department and also got our lab hooked on listening to NPR and having lively discussions of politics, movies, writing styles, music, and endless other topics. Jim seemed like a spirited race horse, but he was also surprisingly aware and caring of others. At Cornell, he met Karin van Dijk, then a PhD student in the Graduate Field of Plant Pathology. They married and later had a daughter, Isabella (“Izzy”). Jim and Karin became collaborators as well as life partners, and she is now an Associate Professor of Biochemistry at UNL. As Jim’s former lab mate Amy Charkowski wrote me: “I remember how much he and Karin enjoyed running in Ithaca and how much he enjoyed spring in New York and the song birds. He had never lived someplace with so many song birds or with such dramatic springs and he could go on and on about this.” 

Two photos of Jim evoke particularly strong memories for me. The first is the official Plant Pathology Department photo of Jim as a new postdoc in 1993. In it I see the raw enthusiasm and promise that I was so lucky to experience. The second photo (below), from Gail Preston, is of Jim and Rob Jackson leading their respective “DC3000” and “1448A” soccer/football teams into battle at the 8th International Conference on Pseudomonas syringae Pathovars and Related Pathogens in Oxford in 2010. In it I see the wide-open sociability, sunny vitality, and love of fun for the whole group that Jim brought to the benefit of our lab and to so many scientific gatherings. Jim will be missed for so many reasons by so many people around the world. We have all lost a great scientist and a treasured friend. 

Dec 20
A Social Media ​Tribute to Jim Alfano

Jim Alfano was an active supporter of science (his own and that of others) using social media. He frequently tweeted about plant-microbe interactions news and updates from his account. He also maintained a page on plant-microbe interactions, through which he curated the literature. It is, therefore, not surprising that many tributes to @jimalfano1 were quickly posted on Twitter from his many followers. Below is a selection of those tweet.

Jim’s legacy lives on through his many contributions to our science and through his mentoring and teaching activities. But we will also remember him through his tweets and posts. Please share your own tributes and remembrances in the “Comments” section below.

Dec 20
IS-MPMI BOD to Add Two Junior Members; Apply Now!

In order to include the viewpoints of our members in training in Society decision-making and Congress planning, the IS-MPMI Board of Directors (BOD) would like to add two graduate student or postdoc members to the board. The term length of these positions will be two years (Congress to Congress), although the first positions will be held only until the 2021 Congress. The BOD can vote to extend the position for an additional two years if the requirements of the position are still met (applicant is still a graduate student or postdoc). 

Requirements/duties of the position:

  • Maintain membership in IS-MPMI
  • Contribute to Society leadership, decision making, and Congress planning by participating in month or bi-monthly BOD teleconferences and follow up communications, averaging less than 2 hours per month 
  • Assist in developing and soliciting content for IS-MPMI Interactions

Nominations (self-nominations are welcome) will be accepted until March 1, 2020.

Nominations sent to President Mary Beth Mudgett should include:

  • name
  • current position 
  • contact information 
  • and a short (5-6 sentence) description of nominee and why you would be a good addition to the BOD.
Dec 20
The International Year of Plant Health Begins NOW!

The United Nations (UN) has designated 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH), establishing a year to recognize and protect plant health. Designating the year as such is expected to increase awareness among both the public and policymakers of the importance of healthy plants and the necessity of protecting them to achieve sustainable development goals. An International Plant Health Conference will be among thousands of plant health events to be held globally throughout 2020.

You can participate in several ways:

  • Engage your community. Spread the word about the impact plants have on our lives and the importance of plant health in ending hunger, reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and boosting economic development.

    • Use the hashtag #PlantHealth when sharing your research stories.

    • The European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization will be organizing specific events throughout the year. You can find more information at their IYPH website.

    • The American Phytopathological Society is developing an IYPH toolkit that will include infographics and ideas for community engagement. In addition, APS is asking for volunteers to record short videos or podcasts that highlight the efforts of scientists to improve plant health. For more information, visit the APS IYPH website.

  • Submit human interest stories. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is asking for stories about plant health. FAO is looking for help identifying first-hand stories that show at least one of the following:
    • How someone has contributed to plant health

    • The damage caused by plant pests and diseases

    • How plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, or boost economic development

The deadline to submit a story is February 15, 2020. Submission instructions and more information can be found on the FAO website.

  • Submit your photos to a contest. Submit photos that illustrate your idea of healthy or unhealthy plants. Each participant can submit up to five photos. The deadline to submit photos is June 15, 2020. See more details.

  • ​​​​​Attend an event—virtually or in person. Hundreds of events are being organized worldwide to promote the IYPH. More event information is available online.

Visit the UN FAO website to learn more. Watch the official launch event for IYPH, which was held in Rome on December 2, 2019. Download the official IYPH brochure, which is available in all the official UN languages.

Dec 19
InterConnections: A Reflection About Writing a Scientific Article for the MPMI Journal from Robyn Roberts

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a new series for IS-MPMI Interactions called InterConnections (because it connects Interactions with the MPMI journal), where we will highlight first authors of “Editor’s Pick” articles from the MPMI journal. The November “Editor’s Pick” isMai1 Protein Acts Between Host Recognition of Pathogen Effectors andMitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Signaling​”; the first author is Robyn Roberts and the corresponding author is Gregory B. Martin.

This project is a demonstration of how persistence is key to publication. Like many labs with “historical” projects that get passed down from postgrad to postgrad, this particular project began about a decade ago when Mai1 was discovered in a yeast-two-hybrid screen (by co-author Kerry Pedley). Several postdocs and undergraduates contributed to the project over the decade, but through the years, as people left the lab for other opportunities, this project followed a postdoc chain until it landed on my bench. With good timing between my other projects and the help of experienced undergrads, I was able to contribute some key experiments that supported the role and importance of Mai1 in NLR-triggered immunity (NTI).

I became interested in plant–microbe interactions when I was an undergraduate researcher in Roger Innes’s lab at Indiana University (IU), studying plant immunity in the arabidopsis–powdery mildew system. I was really surprised at how knocking out single genes in plants could have such drastic impacts on immunity. I found a lot of joy in working with plants (and microbes) in research, and after earning my BS degree in biology at IU, my interests in plant pathology led me to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where I earned my PhD in plant pathology. There, I studied the molecular mechanisms of translation of a wheat virus, Triticum mosaic virus. While I found viruses really fascinating and clever in how they package so much information in their small genomes, I really wanted to move back to the plant side to study plant defense. This led me to a postdoctoral position in Greg Martin’s lab at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) to work on tomato–bacterial interactions with a focus on plant immunity.

I really like postdoc life. Without the pressures of writing a thesis and facing a deadline to graduate, I can be more creative in my research and have more diverse projects. Compared with graduate school, I feel that I have a better handle on time management in the lab and have more experience training undergraduate researchers, so I can accomplish more in less time. I also really enjoy the opportunities to mentor students and work on my own professional development, including my writing and transferrable skills (soft skills). While there is sometimes more pressure to publish as a postdoc than a graduate student, I find that most of this pressure is self-driven and motivated by my desire to share my research with broader scientific audiences.

I participate in a number of extracurricular activities, both professionally and as hobbies. Professionally, I am actively involved in our BTI Postgraduate Society (PGS) and in scientific outreach. My hobbies include volunteering with my dog in Cornell Companions at a local nursing home, hiking around the Finger Lakes and in the Adirondacks, playing saxophone, and crocheting. In graduate school, I was also a part of deBary-tones, an outreach-based, plant pathology-themed band and received funds from the APS Foundation and OPRO to record an album of our music (titled Faster Than the Speed of Blight).

Dec 19
InterWorkings: National Mentoring Month

​January is National Mentoring Month in the United States, but awareness of the importance of mentoring in workplace interactions is essential everywhere. Whether you are hosting a summer research intern for the first time or have mentored students and postdocs for decades, it’s a good idea to think about the role of mentors in training the next generation of scientists. 

Mentors play an important role in the success of students, postdocs, and other laboratory personnel, and both the mentor and the mentee share a responsibility to make their relationship productive and rewarding. Each connection between a mentor and a student is unique and will evolve over time, resulting in the need to make adjustments to the relationship periodically. Today’s workforce is composed of people with increasingly diverse backgrounds, which may add a layer of complexity. One goal of effective mentorship should be to allow this to enrich, rather than confound, the relationship. 

Many of us recognize the importance of a healthy mentoring relationship. Even so, it’s useful to highlight the benefits to both the mentor and the mentee:*

Mentoring benefits students/postdocs because: 

  • It supports their advancement in research activity, conference presentations, publication, pedagogical skill, and grant writing. 
  • They are less likely to feel ambushed by potential bumps in the road, having been alerted to them and provided with resources for dealing with stressful or difficult periods in their graduate careers. 
  • Mentors can provide experiences and networks to help them improve their prospects of securing professional placement. 
  • It provides knowledge that someone is committed to their progress—someone who can give them solid advice and be their advocate and can help to lower stress and build confidence. 
  • Constructive interaction with a mentor and participation in collective activities he or she arranges promote engagement in the field. 

And it rewards mentors in an abundance of ways: 

  • Your mentee will keep you abreast of new knowledge and techniques and apprise you of promising avenues for research. 
  • Your reputation rests in part on the work of your former students; sending successful new scholars into the field increases your professional stature. 
  • Your networks are enriched. Helping mentees make the professional and personal connections they need to succeed will greatly extend your own circle of colleagues. 
  • Good students will be attracted to you. Word gets around about who the best mentors are, so they are usually the most likely to recruit—and retain—outstanding people. 
  • It’s personally satisfying. Seeing your mentees succeed can be as rewarding as a major publication or significant grant. 

If you are interested in resources to help you enhance your mentoring capabilities, consult the following resources:

Online Resources

  • Summary of a panel discussion of science-based studies to improve mentoring relationships.

  • The National Research Mentoring Network provides some resources for mentor training and networking opportunities for both mentors and students/postdocs.

  • This resource was developed by Jo Handelsman (University of Wisconsin–Madison) and provides an outline for leading an 8-session seminar on the process of learning to be a mentor.

  • Chapter 5 provides an overview of mentoring, including responsibilities and strategies to strengthen your mentoring relationship.

  • A collection of articles from Nature Careers, profiles of Nature’s annual Mentoring in Science award winners, and relevant blog posts from Naturejobs.


  • Barker, K. 2010. At the Helm: Leading Your Laboratory, 2nd ed. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, New York. 

  • Dean, D. 2009. Getting the Most Out of Your Mentoring Relationships: A Handbook for Women in STEM. Springer-Verlag, New York. 

  • Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1997. Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering. National Academies Press, Washington, DC. DOI: 10.17226/5789 

* Adapted from How to Mentor Graduate Students: A Guide for Faculty​ (2019), Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan.

Dec 19
Watch for the upcoming MPMI Focus Issue on Cell Biology of Virus-Plant and Virus-Vector Interactions.

Focus issue guest editors Aiming Wang, Tessa Burch-Smith, and Yi Li have compiled 10 research and review articles that explore aspects of the cell biology of virus interactions, both with the plant hosts and their insect vectors. Articles include: 

Molecular Plant-Plum Pox Virus Interactions
Bernardo Rodamilans, Adrián Valli, and Juan Antonio García

Translatome Profiling of Plum Pox Virus–Infected Leaves in European Plum Reveals Temporal and Spatial Coordination of Defense Responses in Phloem Tissues
Tamara D. Collum, Andrew L. Stone, Diana J. Sherman, Elizabeth E. Rogers, Christopher Dardick, and James N. Culver

A Symbiotic Virus Facilitates Aphid Adaptation to Host Plants by Suppressing Jasmonic Acid Responses
Hong Lu, Junjie Zhu, Jinting Yu, Xiaofang Chen, Le Kang, and Feng Cui

Dec 19
How do plant microbiota influence the immune system? A Microgreens interview with Jeff Dangl.

In the first full-length episode of the MPMI journal podcast, Microgreens host and biology professor Raka Mitra interviews Jeff Dangl, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

When she started as a postdoc in the plant pathogenesis field, Mitra was overwhelmed by the amount of literature she needed to read. She found herself drawn to reviews and perspective articles written by Dr. Dangl and his lab. 

“I don’t think it’s overstatement to say that Jeff Dangl is a giant in the field of plant-microbe interactions,” says Mitra. “His group has made major strides in the study of plant pathogenesis, focusing mainly on the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana.” 

In this 13-minute episode, Mitra asks “What is one major unanswered question in the field of MPMI?” and “When did you first start thinking about microbiomes?” 

Listen to the episode and follow Microgreens on Twitter to get the new alerts. 

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