The University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Li-Jun Ma

Assistant Professor

Research areas include fungal comparative genomics, eukaryotic genome evolution and organism adaptation.

Current Research
A dynamic genome with high plasticity contributes directly to the success of the organism to adapt to changing environments. My lab studies genetic mechanisms that sustain structural and functional flexibility while maintaining the integrity of the organism using the model fungal system Fusarium oxysporum.

F. oxysporum is a highly adaptive species complex that consists of both plant and human pathogens. Collectively, members within this species complex cause destructive and intractable wilt diseases across a diverse spectrum of plant hosts, including numerous economically important crops: e.g., cotton, canola, melons, and tomato. During the past two decades, F. oxysporum strains have also emerged as opportunistic pathogens causing life-threatening infections in immunocompromised patients. However, any single pathogenic form exhibits strong host specificity. Comparative genomics demonstrated that horizontal transfer of pathogenicity chromosomes conveys host-specific pathogenicity (Ma et al., 2010). The pathogenicity chromosomes encoded in each pathogenic form provide a focal point for investigating the genetic mechanisms that underlie pathogenesis. F. oxysporum has also been used to study host-pathogen interactions to investigate horizontal chromosome transfer in eukaryotes.

Specifically, my research combines experimental and computational biology approaches to:

  1. Study the molecular interactions within the genome and between the “core genome” and the horizontally transferred chromosomes by reconstructing regulatory network.
  2. Investigate the plant-fungal interactions using a Fusarium-Arabidopsis pathosystem for the development of optimized management strategies to control the Fusarium vascular wilt diseases; and dissect virulence factors that contribute to emerging infectious disease using Fusarium-animal model systems for the development of novel therapeutics.
  3. Dissect virulence factors that contribute to emerging infectious disease using Fusarium-animal model systems for the development of novel therapeutics.

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Academic Background

  • PhD State University of New York, the College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry
  • Postdoctoral Training: Harvard University
DeIulio GA, Guo L, Zhang Y, Goldberg JM, Kistler HC, Ma L-J. 2018, Kinome expansion in the Fusarium oxysporum species complex driven by accessary chromosomes. mSphere, 13;3(3). pii: e00231-18. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00231-18.
Jelinski NA, Broz K, Jonkers W, Ma L-J, Kistler HC. 2017. Effector gene suites in some soil isolates of Fusarium oxysporumare not sufficient predictors of vascular wilt in tomato. Phytopathology, 107: 842-851.
Guo L, Zhao G, Xu JR, Kistler HC, Gao L, and Ma L-J. 2016, Compartmentalized Gene regulatory networks of a pathogenic fungus Fusarium graminearum. New Phytologist, 211(2):527-41 doi: 10.1111/nph.13192.
Guo L,Breakspear A, Zhao G, Gao L, Xu J-R, Kistler HC, and Ma L-J. 2016, Conservation and divergence of cAMP-PKA pathways in plant pathogenic fungi Fusarium graminearumand F. verticillioides. Molecular Plant Pathology17(2):196-209.
Guo L., A. Breakspear, G. Zhao, L.-X. Gao, H. C. Kistler, J.-R. Xu and L.-J. Ma (2015). " Conservation and divergence of cAMP-PKA pathways in two plant pathogenic fungi Fusarium graminearum and F. verticillioides." Molecular Plant Pathology accepted.
Ma, L.-J. *, D. Geiser, R. H. Proctor, A. P. Rooney, K. O’Donnell, F. Trail, D. M. Gardiner, J. M. Manners, K. Kazan. 2013. Fusarium Pathogenimics. Annual Review of Microbiology. 167: 399-416
Ma L.-J. , H. Charlotte van der Does, et al. 2010. Fusarium comparative genomics reveals lineage-specific chromosomes related to pathogenicity. Nature. 465:367-373 <a href="">Post-publication peer review at Faculty of 1000</a> <a href="">Highlight in Nature Reviews Microbiology</a>
Kumar L., A. Breakspear, J. Menke, C. Kistler, L.-J. Ma*, X. Xie*. 2010. Systematic Discovery of regulatory motifs in Fusarium by comparison of four Fusarium genomes. BMC Genomics. 11:208
Contact Info

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
N433 Life Sciences Laboratory
240 Thatcher Way
Amherst, MA 01003-9292

(413) 545-1205