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September 27
Interactions 2018 - Issue 3


2018's third issue of IS-MPMI Interactions includes a letter from IS-MPMI President Regine Kahmann and IS-MPMI members who received awards at ICPP2018. 

Letter from the President

IS-MPMI President Regine Kahmann previews the IS-MPMI XVIII Congress in Glasgow and recaps this year at IS-MPMI.

Pierre de Wit Receives Prestigious Jakob Eriksson Prize

IS-MPMI member Pierre de Wit is the 2018 recipient of the Jakob Eriksson Prize, awarded by the International Society of Plant Pathology at the International Congress of Plant Pathology (ICPP2018). The Eriksson Prize is the highest international honor for achievement in plant pathology. Read an interview with de Wit and find out how to watch his lecture online!

Four IS-MPMI Members Receive APS Awards at ICPP2018

Melania Figueroa, Howard S. Judelson, Barbara S. Valent, and Xueping Zhou received awards at ICPP2018. Read about their distinguished careers!

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IS-MPMI Interactions

 

Editor-in-Chief: Dennis Halterman
Staff Editor: Michelle Bjerkness

The deadline for submitting items to the next issue of Interactions is February 23, 2018.
IS-MPMI Interactions is a quarterly publication by the International Society of Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions
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Share views on "hot topics," anecdotal stories about research findings published in the MPMI journal, or science-related events within the community. E-mail Dennis Halterman or submit items online.
 
September 27
Letter from IS-MPMI President Regine Kahmann

Two years have passed since the highly successful and scientifically stimulating XVII International Congress on Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions in Portland in 2016, and it is almost 1 more year to go until IS-MPMI XVIII convenes in Glasgow, Scotland, on July 14–18, 2019. This long period makes you wonder what IS-MPMI and the board of directors have been doing since 2016. 

This year’s efforts of the board of directors have been largely devoted to organizing the 2019 congress in Glasgow together with the local organizers, Paul Birch and John Jones, and the local organizing committee, representing all areas of IS-MPMI in the UK. We have decided in several sessions on the plenary speakers and the chairs of concurrent sessions. The goal has been to generate a mix of established and junior speakers with broad international representation and a good gender balance. Looking at the program, I think we have largely achieved this. It has also been very rewarding to hear that almost without exception, all the invited scientists have agreed to speak. I am also very happy to let you know that the financial situation of our society is such that we will be able to grant travel support to more junior scientists to attend the 2019 congress in Glasgow. The website to apply for this funding will open in early 2019.​


When I took over the presidency from Sheng Yang He in Portland, it was time to restructure the IS-MPMI Interactions platform—our forum to communicate with you. I felt that we should not miss out on the immense expertise of outstanding members of our society who have recently retired. It’s my great pleasure to report that Fred Ausubel, Paola Bonfante, Alan Colmer, Allan Downie, and Dan Klessig readily agreed to my inquiry and will from now on form a team of senior advisors for Interactions that the editor-in-chief can turn to for advice. Brad Day stepped down as editor-in-chief of Interactions, and Dennis Halterman enthusiastically took over the position and is breaking new ground by soliciting participation in particular of our younger members, who among other things have chosen eminent scientists for interviews. I still see room for improvement, i.e., more participation of our members. It would be great if you would tell us the topics you would like to see printed and discussed so that we can focus our efforts on content that matters to our members, in particular the junior members, to keep them excited about science and engaged in our society.

IS-MPMI is a truly international society, and we currently have about 1,000 members from 43 countries. I would be very happy to see more participation by members from all countries with respect to engagement in our society. IS-MPMI is an open society, and views and suggestions from all members are welcome. We would like to communicate with our members, and we appreciate your suggestions on how best to accomplish this goal, especially career advancement for our young members. We desire to foster a strong sense of community.

MPMI, the dedicated journal of our society, has been running smoothly under the expert guidance of John McDowell as editor-in-chief. John has made substantial efforts, together with his editorial team, to increase the visibility of MPMI during difficult times, in which more and more journals are launched and compete for papers. His 3-year term will end in December 2018, and we are happy to announce that Jeanne Harris will take over then. Let me take the opportunity to thank John for all of his time and effort devoted to MPMI. Let me also take the opportunity to thank members of the board of directors for their extremely valuable input during the many calls and for their willingness to take on responsibility for IS-MPMI affairs and advancing the functioning of our society. And a big thank-you to the staff for keeping our input into the daily affairs of the society to a minimum.

With respect to our science, I sense that times are changing: Model systems will certainly continue to be of enormous value by elucidating the basic mechanisms of how microbes interact with plants. When I attended my first IS-MPMI meeting in Interlaken in 1990, I was incredibly proud to be allowed to talk about a system that seemed odd at the time but since has become a model for biotrophic fungal–plant interactions. I find it truly rewarding that it has survived and flourished for three decades and continues to deliver unprecedented and exciting insights. Such models are important and will continue to be so. However, with the advent of new technologies, even difficult-to-handle systems of considerable importance in agriculture are becoming tractable. We should return to these: obligate and emerging pathogens, obligate symbionts, and the transplantation of entire systems, such as nitrogen fixation, into crop plants.

As I write this letter, I am on vacation in my summerhouse at the Baltic Sea. It is one of the driest summers on record, and it is horrifying to see plants getting weak first due to the drought and then succumbing to pathogens. Watching this happen not just in your own garden but also in the neighboring fields tells you that the importance of our work will grow if we want to solve worldwide problems of crop production under changing climate conditions. We need to improve plant productivity and contribute to a sustainable agriculture. The engineering of broad-spectrum and durable resistance continues to be one of the big future challenges. The availability of genome information of the most important crop species, together with modern genome engineering techniques, is expected to spur new initiatives in this direction. Another hurdle I see is that most of our results are obtained and validated in controlled laboratory settings. In most cases, we do not know to what extent traits we have introduced will work out under field conditions, where plants may be exposed not to one but to several threats simultaneously or in succession and/or to slowly changing environments, involving several factors. In this regard, it is shocking that in July 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that gene-edited crops should be subject to the same regulations that are applied to conventional genetically modified organisms—even if they do not contain transgenes. This is a severe blow to the more translational research in our field in all of Europe. I can only hope that those of you who are affected by this ruling will not give up your fight against it.

I will end with a personal note: In one of his letters to you, Sheng Yang He, previous president of our society, voiced that he feels unsatisfied to witness young group leaders struggle to find a new niche and he suggested several solutions. I agree with him that this continues to be a problem. But I see an even deeper problem developing in science in general: Doing science may lose some of its attraction. For me throughout my scientific career, doing science, i.e., solving a scientific problem that you have picked yourself, has been immense fun and highly rewarding. I see this at stake not while you work on solving the problem but when you try to publish it. Our publishing culture, in my view, has eroded to a point that it becomes increasingly impossible to publish exciting new findings quickly, because you are asked to add more and more detail during several rounds of revision, which delays publication to an unacceptable length. Let me make clear that I am not talking about missing controls and/or flaws in the data but about an almost deliberate delay by the reviewers—who are our colleagues. I am afraid that such experiences will seriously damage the interest in basic research and may turn away our most promising young PhDs and post-docs from pursuing a scientific career. We will pick up this discussion with the board of directors and the IS-MPMI community to meet this challenge and develop an effective strategy, because the future also of our scientific field critically depends on the young scientists and their excitement, engagement, and fun in doing science and tackling the unknown.

I am very much looking forward to seeing many of you in Glasgow next year.

Best wishes,

Regine Kahmann, President

September 27
Pierre de Wit Receives 2018 Jakob Eriksson Prize

IS-MPMI member Pierre de Wit is the 2018 recipient of the Jakob Eriksson Prize, awarded by the International Society of Plant Pathology at the International Congress of Plant Pathology (ICPP2018). The Eriksson Prize is the highest international honor for achievement in plant pathology. Established in 1923, the prize encourages creative study of plant pathogens and the processes of disease development in plants. The prize is named for Jakob Eriksson (1848–1931), a prominent Swedish mycologist and plant pathologist who was an international leader. The prize was first awarded in 1930 and has since been awarded to 11 individuals from seven countries.


de Wit has been a pioneer in molecular plant pathology and plant–microbe interactions research. Among his many accomplishments, he was instrumental in introducing molecular biology techniques into phytopathology research. He has authored or co-authored close to 200 articles, several of which have been published in high-impact scientific journals. de Wit is also an elected member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the Academy Professor Prize in 2008, the Emil Christian Hansen Gold Medal Award from the Carlsberg Foundation in 1996, and the Noel Keen Award from The American Phytopathological Society in 2007.

A recording of de Wit’s lecture at ICPP2018 is available online.​

​​Pierre de Wit receives the Jakob Eriksson Prize. From left to right: Mauritz Ramstedt, Chair of the Jakob Eriksson Commission; Pierre de Wit; Ulla Gjörstrup, representative of the Swedish Consul in Boston.

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

As an MSc student at Wageningen University in the 1970s, I was intrigued by lectures on the gene-for-gene hypothesis proposed in the 1940s by Professor Oort in the Netherlands for wheat and Ustilago tritici and by Harold Flor in the U.S.A. for flax and Melampsora lini. I was fortunate to be offered a PhD position and having the freedom to choose my own research subject. I ended up studying the interaction between tomato and Cladosporium fulvum. I witnessed different episodes in the research on gene-for-gene systems. At the third ICPP in Munich in 1978—the first international congress that I attended—research was focused on elicitors and their capacity to more quickly induce phytoalexins in incompatible interactions than in compatible ones. My role models at that congress were Noël Keen, Peter Albersheim, and Joseph Kuć. Their research inspired me to carry on in times when I did not make much progress in my own research. Phytoalexins have now become popular as health-enhancing phytochemicals (such as resveratrol, glyceollin, polyphenols, etc.). I was surprised to read an article recently that the tomato phytoalexin falcarindiol, which we discovered in tomato in 1981, is also a potential drug, inhibiting human cancer cell lines. In addition to phytoalexins, we studied the role of antifungal pathogenesis-related proteins, including chitinases and β-1,3-glucanases in incompatible interactions. However, the breakthrough came when we started to study apoplastic fluids from tomato leaves infected by C. fulvum, which appeared to contain many proteinaceous elicitors—the products of fungal avirulence (Avr) genes recognized by cognate Cf receptor-like proteins in tomato. Then, very soon, the specificity question was solved. In the absence of cognate Cf-proteins, race-specific elicitors (now called “effectors”) suppress defense responses induced by nonspecific (glyco) protein fungal elicitors (now called “pathogen-associated molecular patterns,” or PAMPs), and in the presence of cognate Cf proteins, they induce a Cf-mediated defense response. With a very enthusiastic group of MSc students, PhD students, and post-docs, we have cloned many C. fulvum effectors, and for some of them, the structure and function have been elucidated. Many of the PhD students and post-docs now occupy prestigious academic positions, and I see the Jakob Eriksson Prize also as a recognition of their contributions to my research.

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

There is no guidebook that leads to success in science. Everybody stands on the shoulders of other scientists who have pioneered and partly paved roads in different research directions. There are still many fundamental and applied research questions in plant–microbe interactions that need to be addressed and solved in order to get more sustainable agriculture. I grew up on a farm and was motivated to find alternatives for the use of pesticides after reading the book Silent Spring, written by Rachel Carson in 1962. I still strongly believe in the power of disease resistance breeding in sustainable agriculture together with healthy soils and biocontrol agents when no resistance genes are available. The genomics era opens new ways to address and solve difficult research questions. However, to become successful in science, talent is not enough; ambition, curiosity, inspiration, loving your work, endurance, and not being afraid of working hard and making mistakes are equally important. However, it is also important to get sufficient time to develop a new research line after your PhD, which is not easy, as tenure positions are becoming rare in many countries.

When you were a post-doc, 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?

I was very fortunate to obtain a permanent position already during my PhD, as I was hired to assist in teaching and work on my PhD project. This gave me more time to develop my PhD project than a regular PhD student. If I had been allowed to work on my PhD project for only 4 years, I would never have discovered the race-specific elicitors of C. fulvum and their encoding genes. After my PhD, I received a Fulbright Fellowship to work 1 year in the U.S.A. in the laboratory of Professor Joseph Kuć at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, which allowed me to continue my research project and interact with researchers working on induced systemic resistance against pathogens in different crops. At that time, research on gene-for-gene interactions was a hot topic, as well as research on local and systemic resistance, and they still are. 

September 27
Melania Figueroa: 2018 APS Syngenta Award

Melania Figueroa, University of Minnesota, is the 2018 recipient of the APS Syngenta Award. This award is given by Syngenta Crop Protection to an APS member for an outstanding recent contribution to teaching, research, or extension in plant pathology. Priority for this award is given to APS members who are in the first decade of a career in plant pathology. 


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​Melania Figueroa, second from left, receives the APS Syngenta Award at ICPP2018

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

I feel that my research has influenced two areas: first in nonhost resistance, and second in understanding the genomics of complex pathogens. As a post-doc, I started developing Brachypodium distachyon as a system to understand the boundaries of plant susceptibility to Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici (wheat stem rust). Rust fungi pose a significant constraint to the production of small grains, such as wheat, barley, and oat. The potential to utilize this fungal species to engineer disease resistance to rust and define the molecular mechanisms that dictate whether a plant will serve as a host is fascinating. Through this work, I have had the pleasure to work with a network of scientists who have made important contributions in developing genetic and genomic resources in B. distachyon to enable studies like those pursued in my laboratory. As an assistant professor, I have since worked on decoding the complex genomes of rust fungi, which are dikaryotic organisms and possess two quite diverse nuclear genomes. I have had the opportunity to direct my group to address critical challenges to generate genome references for rust fungi that allow comparisons of both nuclei. This work has been crucial to understanding the genetic diversity between both haplotypes, which has important implications for the evolution of virulence. In this research area, I have been very fortunate to work excellent scientists to discover the first effector gene in a cereal rust.

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

An important step to achieve impactful science is first to identify an area of research that addresses a real gap in understanding and can change the way we think or deliver a solution to a problem that affects many of us. I also believe it is important that we are truly passionate about our work, so choose a topic that really interests you. Curiosity, creativity, and persistence are essential qualities. We should always remember that there is always a way to test a hypothesis; it is just a matter of finding how and being open-minded about alternative possibilities.  We should always let the science be our guide. I advise young scientists to not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help when needed. Surround yourself with collaborators with whom you can have fun. The bonds you build with them will provide you with support if you ever feel discouraged.

When you were a post-doc, 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?

My decision to enter my current areas of research was not influenced by a “hot topic.” I simply wished to learn more about the systems I was studying as a post-doc. I recognized that there was a lot to be done and was ready to move on to the next step in my career to achieve these goals. Since I started my position as an assistant professor, my research program has grown to areas I would have never predicted. Every day I learn something new (well…almost every day).

September 27
Howard S. Judelson, 2018 APS Fellow

Howard S. Judelson, University of California at Riverside, is a 2018 Fellow of The American Phytopathological Society (APS). 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. 


Howard S. Judelson, center, receives the APS Fellow Award at ICPP2018​

 

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

When I started my post-doctoral position, molecular research on oomycetes was in a rather primitive state. No one had even cloned or sequenced a single gene! At the time, people were just starting to realize that oomycetes were not true fungi. My work on developing tools for the molecular manipulation of oomycetes helped show that progress could be made on these “difficult” species, which encouraged others to enter the field.

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

Pick something that you are passionate about, and then stick with it (within reason). While some exciting results come quickly in research, many important findings come through the aggregation of multiple incremental advances in knowledge or methods. Do not be afraid to pick a topic that no one has investigated before. Think and read widely, and attend seminars both inside and outside your discipline, since you might find something that could be applied to your own work.

When you were a post-doc, 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?

While my current research deals mostly with Phytophthora infestans, most of my post-doctoral work focused on another oomycete. I was fortunate that my post-doctoral advisor (Richard Michelmore) gave me the freedom to start a side project on P. infestans. This was definitely not a hot topic; barely a handful of laboratories in the entire world were studying any aspect of oomycete molecular biology at the time. As an undergraduate, I was fascinated by the elegant illustrations of oomycete life cycles in the Plant Pathology text written by George Agrios. When I became a post-doc, I saw the opportunity to apply my interest in microbial development to a field with practical impact, such as plant pathology.

September 27
Barbara S. Valent, 2018 APS Noel T. Keen Award

Barbara S. Valent, Kansas State University (KSU), is the 2018 winner of the APS Noel T. Keen Award. The Keen Award recognizes 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 aspects of host–pathogen interactions, plant pathogens or plant-associated microbes, or molecular biology of disease development or defense mechanisms.


Barbara S. Valent, center, receives the Noel T. Keen Award at ICPP2018​
 

Dr. Valent received her BA degree in chemistry in 1972 and her PhD in biochemistry in 1978 from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Following post-doctoral work at Cornell University and the University of Colorado, she began her research career as a principal investigator in molecular plant pathology in 1985 at DuPont Central Research and Development in Delaware. She was promoted to the position of research leader in 1992, to research manager of the Plant and Fungal Genetics and Molecular Biology Program in 1994, and to research fellow and technical leader of the Genetic Disease Resistance Program of DuPont Agricultural Products in 1997. Dr. Valent was appointed as a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at KSU in 2001. In 2002, she was designated a university distinguished professor, and in 2004, she was appointed chair of the Interdepartmental Genetics Program at KSU. 

Dr. Valent has made outstanding and fundamental contributions in the field of plant pathology. More than 20 years ago, she recognized the need for a well-characterized and easily manipulated model system to understand how plants and fungi interact to ultimately lead to disease or resistance. She proposed and developed Magnaporthe grisea, the rice blast fungus, to serve as such a model. Because of her efforts, this pathogen is now one of the most extensively studied and important fungal models for molecular genetic and biochemical analyses of plant–fungal interactions. Using this research tool as her base, Dr. Valent has been at the forefront of several fundamental areas. She was the first to identify and clone both a blast fungal gene that controls the induction of resistance in plants (Avr gene) and the corresponding gene from rice (R gene) that is involved in recognition of the fungal gene. She was the first to demonstrate for this class of R gene that the AVR and R gene products physically interact and that this interaction likely occurs inside living plant cells. These are exciting findings with huge implications for transduction of the signals that result in plant resistance.

Dr. Valent’s many profound insights have also had important practical applications. While elucidating how fungal pathogens adhere to and penetrate host plants, which involved the genetic dissection of melanin biosynthesis in M. grisea, she and her colleagues discovered different possible targets for chemical control of fungal diseases and also a powerful fungal adhesive that even sticks to Teflon! This adhesive was later patented. Based on findings using molecular markers for analysis of M. grisea population structure over wide geographic areas, she and her collaborators have fundamentally changed the strategies plant breeders use to deploy resistance to this important disease. Molecular markers corresponding to the R gene cloned in her laboratory have also been valuable, because this gene confers resistance to the major pathotypes of the fungus in the United States. Thus, Dr. Valent’s basic research has had huge implications for practical disease control.

September 27
Xueping Zhou: 2018 APS Fellow

Xueping Zhou, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, is a 2018 Fellow of The American Phytopathological Society (APS). 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.


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Xueping Zhou, center, receives the APS Fellow Award at ICPP2018​

 

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

Our work mainly focused on plant–virus interaction using geminiviruses. We revealed that βC1, encoded by a geminivirus satellite, is a symptom determinant, a repressor of transcriptional gene silencing (TGS) and post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS), and also a target of many plant defense responses, including phosphorylation modifications-mediated function suppression and ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) and autophagy-mediated protein degradation. These studies extend the interaction between viruses and their hosts and show a co-evolved balance during the long-term “arms race” between plants and viruses, which provides new insight into plant defenses against geminivirus–betasatellite complexes and viral counterdefense measures.

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

First of all, focus on scientific questions that exist in nature. Second, pursue your goal and finish your project with careful study and deep consideration. As science and technology develop very fast, you need to apply different knowledge and methods from cross-disciplinary fields into your profession.

When you were a post-doc, 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?

Since finishing my post-doc, I have been working on plant–virus interaction using geminiviruses. The main reason I decided to work on this specific research is the serious threat of geminiviruses in crops in China. We have been committed to understanding the pathogenic mechanisms of geminiviruses, exploring and exploiting valuable resistance strategies against geminivirus infection. It is a hot topic in the field of plant virology. We noticed that viruses led to a large loss in rice yields. Therefore, now we also work on interaction between the plant and the rice stripe virus.