Two faculty members from the department of biochemistry and molecular biology were recognized for their research at the 17th International Congress of the International Society for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions (MPMI) in Portland, Ore.
Dong Wang, an expert in the symbiotic interactions between plants and beneficial microbes, was honored recently with the inaugural MPMI Young Investigator Award. The award recognizes an “outstanding young investigator for research in the area of molecular plant-microbe interactions.” It comes with $1,000 and the opportunity to present a plenary lecture during the international congress. His topic was “Specialized protein secretion in plant-microbe symbioses.”
Wang says, “This meeting is the most prestigious in the world for researchers working on the molecular interplay between plants and microbes, and I am very honored to have received this recognition. I see this recognition as an example of how mutualism is intertwined with defense responses, and how understandings in one field can propel research in the other.”
In recent work published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nature Plants,Wang and colleagues reported discovering in certain plants a so-called “double agent” peptide secreted from plants to nitrogen-fixing bacteria that holds promise for improving crop yields without increasing fertilizer use. The discovery suggests that some plants use an advanced process for putting nitrogen-fixing bacteria, rhizobia, to work more effectively after they are recruited from soil to fix nitrogen in special nodules on plant roots.
Also at the MPMI congress, Wang’s departmental colleague Li-Jun Ma presented a plenary talk, “Dissecting wilt diseases using the Fusarium oxysporum-Arabidopsis pathosystem.” A genomics expert and researcher at the campus’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences, Ma last year received a coveted Burroughs Wellcome Fund Investigator award in the pathogenesis of infectious disease to develop new treatment options for opportunistic fungal infections. She and her colleagues combine experimental and computational approaches to simultaneously investigate pathogen virulence and host defenses. Her new approach to studying fungal diseases of plants and humans relies on understanding the special genomic structure of these pathogens, where a genome can not only receive genetic material from parent to offspring through cell division, but “horizontally,” in a manner other than by traditional reproduction.
Organizers of the international congress say the event attracts 900 experts from 50 countries to discuss the future of molecular plant-microbe interactions. The meeting highlights “some of the most exciting upcoming research areas,” including the microbiome, tritrophic interactions, RNA-mediated interactions, systems biology, resistance mechanisms, mutualism and microbial virulence functions.