I received my bachelor’s degree from Huazhong Agricultural University where I worked on optimization of a transformation system for Dianthus chinensis. The undergraduate research experience introduced me to the molecular aspect of plant biology, and led me to search for a graduate program strong in plant molecular biology. The Ohio State University was an obvious choice given its large plant biology community, and the truly cooperative research environment. After a few rotations, I joined Dr. David Mackey’s group working on molecular plant-microbe interactions.
It was estimated that 35% of global crop production is lost due to pre-harvest plant diseases. Great emphases have been placed onto devising effective agricultural practices and chemical protections, and breeding disease-resistant crop cultivars. Underlying all of these efforts, is a fundamental understanding of the microbial and plant biology, and the molecular events at the interface of plant-microbe interactions.
My research project focuses on a group of bacterial effector proteins called AvrE-family type-III effectors. The effectors are employed by a wide variety of plant bacterial pathogens whose hosts range from model plant Arabidopsis to economically important plants such as sweet corn, tomato, potato, and fruit trees of the Rosaceae family. These effector directly modulate plant cellular processes to suppress plant immunity and induce disease symptoms, and are usually essential for the virulence of the deploying pathogens. What we were aiming to uncover is the plant target protein that underlies the virulence function of these bacterial effectors. Once identified and validated, the plant proteins can serve as potential candidates for breeding disease-resistant cultivars against the repertoire of bacterial pathogens that deploy a member of this effector family.
Through my PhD program, I have gained valuable training towards an academic career. Aside from training in technical skills, there are plenty of opportunities to gain experience in teaching, academic services, and grant applications. And the broader plant community at the Ohio State University including OARDC and CAPS provided great infrastructure, and is also home to a group of talented researchers that bring in expertise in various areas of plant study. I have learned a great deal from my advisor and various collaborators which helped not only advance my research, but also my personal career path.
Left: Necrotic symptom caused by wild-type Pantoea stewartii bacterial strain on maize seedlings. Right: Maize seedlings inoculated with a mutant Pantoea stewartii bacterial strain that does not produce an AvrE-family effector protein.