The development of high throughput technologies has given rise to a wealth of information at system level including genome, transcriptome, proteome and metabolome. However, it remains a major challenge to digest the massive amounts of information and use it in an intelligent and comprehensive manner. To address this question, Dr. Fei’s group has focused on developing computational tools and resources to analyze and integrate large scale “omics” datasets,” which help researchers to understand how genes work together to comprise functioning cells and organisms.
My overall interest is to gain an understanding of the interactions between plant viruses and their insect vectors that regulate the efficient movement of viruses between plant hosts. Specific projects mix fundamental laboratory studies with field studies to investigate; the molecular and cellular interactions of plant viruses with their aphid vectors; the genetics of vector competence in aphid populations; and biological and cultural factors that influence virus epidemics in cereal and potato crops. The long-term goal is to develop sustainable virus disease control practices based on the interference of efficient transmission of viruses by their insect vectors.
Our team is interested in the epidemiology, genetics and evolution of exotic and reemerging Phytophthora species. The genus Phytophthora contains most destructive plant pathogens affecting agricultural and forest crops. Important examples include P. ramorum, a devastating exotic pathogen causing sudden oak death, and P. infestans, known as the cause of the Irish potato famine. Much of our work is conducted with a focus on translational applications towards improving disease management in agriculture.
Most vascular flowering plants are able to form symbiotic associations with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. These associations, named ‘arbuscular mycorrhizas’, develop in the roots, where the fungus colonizes the cortex to access carbon supplied by the plant. The fungal contribution to the symbiosis includes the transfer of mineral nutrients, particularly phosphorus, from the soil to the plant. In many soils, phosphate exists at levels that are limiting for plant growth. Consequently, additional phosphate supplied via AM fungi can have a significant impact on plant development, and this symbiosis influences the structure of plant communities in ecosystems worldwide.
The long-term goals of our research are to understand the mechanisms underlying development of the AM symbiosis and phosphate transfer between the symbionts. A model legume, Medicago truncatula, and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, Glomus versiforme, Glomus intraradices and Gigaspora gigantea are used for these analyses. Currently, a combination of molecular, cell biology, genetic and genomics approaches are being used to obtain insights into development of the symbiosis, communication between the plant and fungal symbionts, and symbiotic phosphate transport.
Dr. Michelle Heck leads an active vector biology research group within the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. Dr. Heck has joint appointments at the Boyce Thompson Institute, the USDA ARS, and Cornell University.
Heck’s research program uses a combination of molecular, genetic, and proteomics approaches to understand how insects transmit plant pathogens and how pathogens manipulate host plants to ensure replication and transmission. A second area of research is the development of new pest management tools to enhance cultural control and to provide new management strategies for insect vector-borne diseases in plants.
Our research is focused on understanding, at the biochemical, molecular and cellular levels, how plants protect themselves against microbial pathogens. The major goal is to determine the mechanisms of action of salicylic acid (SA) in activation and regulation of the plant’s immune responses. We also are now employing the technology developed and knowledge gained from our work on SA and plant immunity to identify the targets of aspirin (acetyl SA) and its major metabolite SA in humans. The molecular/biochemical function of CRT1/MORC1 in multiple levels of plant immunity is also being deciphered. In addition, in collaboration with Frank Schroeder the induction of plant immune responses by nematode ascarosides is being investigated.
The bacterial plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa migrates through grapevines causing Pierce's disease, a deadly infection. Bacterial migration can be controlled by a process known as chemotaxis,which is the movement of organisms towards nutrients or away from noxious compounds. X. fastidiosa has numerous genes that are homologous to chemotaxis genes found in Escherichia coli, the canonical chemotaxis system. Disruption of the X. fastidiosa homologous chemotaxis genes prevents motility and dramatically limits disease. Our laboratory is trying to understand how the chemotaxis genes control the movement of X. fastidiosa and how we can use this knowledge to prevent Pierce's disease.
My other major area of research involves a collaboration with HWS organic chemist, Prof. Erin Pelkey (http://people.hws.edu/pelkey/Pelkey_Research_Group/Welcome.html). His laboratory group is interested in synthesizing simplified analogs of the anti-cancer compound staurosporine. Staurosproine binds to numerous cellular proteins and therefore is too toxic to the body for clinical application. However, by making simplified versions, we hope to increase specificity and to understand the structural requirements for activity. We have identified promising compounds that induce death of cancer cells and are exploring how the compounds induce their response.
Professor Peter Palukaitis is from Seoul Women’s University, where his current research focuses on molecular analysis of the mechanisms of resistance elicited by tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) in tobacco containing the N gene, structure-function relationships of chrysanthemum viroids, and application of resistance to multiple viruses in transgenic potato. In addition, in collaboration with colleagues in India, Italy, Spain, the UK and the USA, he is involved in research on host-virus interactions associated with disease and resistance (using cucumber mosaic virus, potato leaf roll virus and various potyviruses) and exploitation of several viruses for biotechnological applications.
My work focuses on developing and applying computational methods for analyzing large datasets from high-throughput biological experiments. These methods include genome assembly and annotation, comparative genomics, transciptomics, proteomics, etc. I have worked and continue to work with other PPPMB scientists to study a number of different plant-microbe systems.
Molecular biology of plant-microbe interactions, with emphasis on regulatory systems that contribute to bacterial stress tolerance and survival in plants; genetic recombination in Pseudomonas syringae.