Letter from Jim Bradeen, Outgoing Department Head
I’m writing this, my last “Head’s Letter,” nine days before my departure from our great department! For more than 20 years, I have had the privilege of being part of an extraordinary group of students, staff, and faculty who do extraordinary things across the globe, always with humility and grace and very often without recognition. For nearly nine years, I have had the privilege of leading this extraordinary group as department head and helping us continue to grow to be more inclusive and equitable, adaptive in our thinking about the field of plant pathology, and unwavering in delivering excellent education, research solutions, and disease management strategies.
It is said that change is the only true constant in life. (The past two years have been a living example of just how relevant this is to each of us!) Change can be hard but often leads to growth. And with this thought as a guiding principle, I have made the difficult decision to accept a new position at Colorado State University. Starting April 4, 2022, I will be Associate Vice President for Strategy, leading programing efforts at our new Denver-based CSU Spur Campus (csuspur.org). CSU Spur is an outward facing entity that celebrates and delivers on our land grant mission of providing life-changing education and world-changing research for EVERYONE. Committed to agriculture, plant and animal health, and environmental sustainability, CSU Spur provides K-12, degree programing, experiential learning, professional upskilling, and lifelong learning opportunities. Best of all: it is free and open to the public! Come visit if you are ever in Denver!
With my departure comes change for our department. I am thrilled to share that Professor Ruth Dill-Macky will assume the role of Interim Head starting April 1. Ruth is a longtime member of our department. She joined in 1992 as a postdoc with the USDA-ARS Cereal Disease Lab and in 1994 transitioned to a faculty role. Ruth is an expert on Fusarium head blight (aka “scab”) of wheat and other small grains. She is an avid teacher, recognized by our college for her teaching excellence. She is also an exceptional graduate student mentor and many of her former students have gone on to have illustrious careers of their own. Ruth previously served as our Director of Graduate Studies and currently leads our Education Committee. At present Ruth also co-chairs the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, a national effort funded by the USDA to address scab issues through research and extension in a concerted, nation-wide manner. A native of Australia, Ruth is a former lifeguard who is also an avid cross-country skier. She is deeply knowledgeable and resourceful and a true pleasure to work with! I depart knowing that our department is in capable hands with Professor Dill-Macky’s leadership!
The college is immediately launching a national search for a permanent department head while Ruth serves in her interim role. Please feel free to reach out for updates and if you know of exceptional candidates, please let us know!
As always, I thank each and every one of you for your continued commitment to our department. It has been a pleasure being part of our extended community and getting to know so many of you on a personal basis! Enjoy this edition of the Aurora!
Letter from Ruth Dill-Macky, Interim Department Head
For all of us in Plant Pathology this is a bittersweet moment for the Department. We are sad to see Jim leave the Department but excited for him as he takes on a new leadership challenge at CSU Spur. Jim’s leadership of the Department over the past nine years has undoubtedly served us well. He has been a highly effective advocate for the Department, within the College and University, and for the discipline of Plant Pathology to the broader community. Jim championed a small but significant expansion of the faculty over the past few years and built additional capacity in the Department for communications and in support of graduate student education.
As Jim indicated, this truly is a simply amazing Department. I am humbled and honored to be serving the department as an interim head through this time of transition. I take on the task knowing we have a stellar admin team to support me and the Department’s many functions and ask for your forbearance as I learn to juggle the many things Jim handled seemingly effortlessly. I have already had the pleasure of meeting with a few of the many individuals who support the Department in my new role, and I look forward to more of those interactions over the coming months. The College has already assembled a search committee for the new permanent head and thus we can all look forward to the opening of a new chapter for the Department, perhaps in early 2023.
A student worker in Plant Pathology from the 1960s helps current forest pathology research
BY NICK RAJTAR
Field work comes with many benefits: getting out into nature, foraging for tasty wild mushrooms, and seeing parts of Minnesota that I wouldn’t otherwise have had the privilege to see. But nothing beats arriving at a site in the early morning and enjoying the stillness and tranquility of the forest. I look forward to many more of these benefits as I continue my graduate research.
This field season (spring, summer and autumn) I have been traveling across the state gathering information about invasive pathogens; in particular, Phytophthora and Heterobasidion. This work allows us to work closely with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who recommended most of the sites that we are surveying around the state.
At the surveying sites, I collect soil samples and take them back to the lab where I process them. Processing the soil samples starts with soaking the soil in water for three days in plastic bags. After three days, pears are added to the soil and the bags are topped off with water. The pathogens in the soil will attack the pears and cause lesions. These lesions can be cut out of the pear and added to media that screens for Phytophthora called PARPH.
On a recent sampling trip to Weaver, Minnesota, I connected with a former DNR employee, who is also a former student worker in plant pathology at the University of Minnesota from the 1960s, Nick Gulden. I collected my soil from the trees suspected to be suffering from Phytophthora. Nick showed me around his land and was happy to take me on a two-mile tour. The land is well-maintained, as he cuts paths with a brush cutter regularly. On the tour he pointed out places on his land where he harvested walnut trees for their wood and showed me some massive butternut trees that have not yet succumbed to butternut canker. He also indulged me by showing me his largest shagbark hickory on his property. At the end of the tour, I had a chance to ask him about his time while he was in the Department of Plant Pathology.
Nick received his Bachelor’s of Science in Fish and Wildlife Management here at the University of Minnesota. To help support his wife and children, he got a job while in school. His job was in the Plant Pathology Department as a part-time laborer and he worked from January 1960-December 1961. His starting pay was $1.56 an hour, and by the end of his time here, he was making $1.68 an hour. This extra income was a big help for his family. Nick had a chance to work for Dr. Roy Wilcoxson and Dr. Larry Littlefield. His duties included regular lab labor tasks like washing dishes, making media, and fungal transfers. He also had the opportunity to do some notable things while working in the department including planting and caring for the experimental corn in Rosemount, Minnesota, and getting the opportunity to work on a project with fungi on bluegrass. Nick often worked weekends, which meant he missed Gopher football games—he was, and still is, a huge Gopher fan. He even missed watching the Gophers in the Rose Bowl, which he was pretty upset about even though the Gophers lost.
Who knew that collecting samples in the present day could lead to connections that span the past and present of Plant Pathology. That is a pretty great perk of field work, too!
New Graduate Students Bring a Wide Range of Experiences and Research Goals
Six new graduate students joined our department in Fall 2021.
Prayana is pursuing a PhD degree advised by Devanshi Khokani. She got her BS degree in Agriculture and her MS degree in Plant Pathology at Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University, India. Prayana’s research is focused on mechanisms of microbial interactions in the synthetic microcosm designed for corn rhizosphere with the goal of reducing pathogen pressure and nitrogen fertilizers.
Nick is pursuing a PhD advised by Ashish Ranjan and Jim Bradeen. Nick got his BS in Biology in 2016 at Augsburg University, Minneapolis. Nick’s research will be focused on characterizing phenylpropanoid pathway genes involved in soybean resistance and susceptibility to S. sclerotiorum. Following characterization, we will explore manipulation of expression of these genes as a means of imparting enhanced resistance to this fungal pathogen.
Molly is pursuing an MS advised by Devanshi Khokani and Jim Bradeen. In 2018, Molly got her BS degree in Environmental Science with a Concentration in Conservation Biology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA. She will be working on Goss’s Wilt and Leaf Blight on corn, caused by Clavibacter nebraskensis. Molly’s project aims to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis of Cn using a multi-omics approach.
Alisha is pursuing an MS degree advised by Shawn Curtin. She got her BS in Horticulture with emphasis in Plant Breeding and Genetics at the University of Minnesota. Alisha’s research is going to look at different viruses and how they are expressed within the plant. She is looking to use the promoter regions for gene editing vectors.
Jose is pursuing a PhD advised by Dean Malvick. In 2018, Jose got his BS in Agronomic Engineering from Universidad Nacional de Agricultura, Catacamas, Honduras. In 2021, he got his MS degree in Plant Pathology from Louisiana State University. Jose’s research will focus on understanding the distribution and factors that contribute to the spread and establishment of tar spot of corn, expanding knowledge of the host range, etiology, and detection methodologies, and investigating the potential for management of tar spot with fungicides and/or resistant hybrids.
Yoonjung is pursuing a PhD degree advised by Brian Steffenson. Yoonjung got her BS in Applied Bioscience, with minor in Molecular Biotechnology at Konkuk University, South Korea, and her MS in Bioscience from the Department of Applied Bioscience, College of Life & Environmental Sciences, Konkuk University, South Korea. Yoonjung’s research project will be focused on genetics and breeding of Bacterial Leaf Streak Resistance (BLS) in Barley. She aims to characterize the genetic architecture of BLS resistance and to develop BLS-resistant barley varieties.
Thursday Night Seminars
BY: CAROL E. WINDELS
An enduring memory from graduate school in the early 1970s is the then time-honored Thursday Night Seminar. Every Thursday evening, Department Head Dr. Kernkamp, faculty, and graduate students met in the seminar room for an “informal” gathering. Dr. Kernkamp sat on the side, near the front, where he scanned the assemblage of attendees, who habitually claimed their usual seats. Departmental visitors from around the world, as well as departmental faculty, talked about their research, careers, and travels. It also was an invaluable time for graduate students to present thesis proposals and research results. Free exchanges occurred and were encouraged. Refreshments were provided by a designated faculty member or graduate student, which was a treat when an international student brought a delicacy native to their country. The group then reconvened to “roast the host” with a series of questions to learn more about them. The intent was light-spirited (but could be intimidating to new graduate students) and culminated in a vote to “pass” the host.
One Thursday evening I skipped a seminar. The first person I saw the next morning as I entered Stakman Hall was Dr. Kernkamp, who remarked “Carol, you must have a good reason for not being at seminar last night”. Whoops! I have no idea how I responded, but in that moment I realized my status as the only female student in the department on a graduate school stipend put me in a unique situation. I was conspicuous by my presence (the only woman in the room) and by my absence (where is Carol?). In retrospect, Thursday Night Seminar was one of the best opportunities in the department to build camaraderie, discuss plant pathology, meet other professionals, and learn to think on one’s feet.
Welcoming Dr. Megan McCaghey
Dr. Megan McCaghey, PhD, has a wide variety of interests, including sociology, food, biology, and agriculture, but she began her plant pathology journey at Hendrix College in Arkansas. The liberal arts program allowed her to undertake undergraduate research in Costa Rica and an internship in Ecuador where she saw firsthand the importance of advances in agriculture. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies, McCaghey pursued her interest in agriculture by enrolling in a MS degree program at University of California at Davis in International Agricultural Development. Through this program, McCaghey became keenly interested in fungal disease impacts on food security. During a USAID-funded fellowship in South Africa, McCaghey worked with maize diseases, which solidified her interest in translational research in plant pathology.
McCaghey then joined the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin to conduct research on genetic tools for resistance to Sclerotinia stem rot in soybean. She used cutting-edge technologies such as virus-mediated HIGS in addition to classic breeding to improve soybean resistance to this soil-borne disease. Following her PhD degree, McCaghey returned to UC Davis to research an emerging disease problem for California potato production: southern blight, a soil-borne disease caused by Sclerotium rolfsii. Though this disease was primarily yield-limiting in the southern Central Valley, it had become increasingly problematic in northern Central Valley annual cropping systems. McCaghey conducted research on temperature effects on the S. rolfsii life cycle and is developing predictive models and management tools (chemical, amendments, and variety selection) to aid potato growers in managing southern blight. This USDA and California Potato Advisory Board and Tomato Institute-funded work will continue through the coming fall.
We are thrilled that McCaghey joined the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota in August 2021 as an Assistant Professor with a 50/50% research/teaching appointment with an emphasis on soil-borne fungi pathogens of crops. With broad experience in molecular biology, field research, and epidemiology, McCaghey is very well-prepared to address fungal soil-borne disease threats and develop a translational research program focused on delivering technologies to growers to impact crop production in Minnesota and around the world.
She is currently organizing several field projects this summer, including one to optimize the chemical control of Phomopsis on sunflower (funded by the National Sunflower Association, and in collaboration with researchers in Nebraska and the Dakotas). She will also be collaborating with soybean breeder Aaron Lorenz to better understand the impact of soybean architecture traits on Sclerotinia stem rot. This work is funded by the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. She is also working to better understand aggressiveness determinants of S. sclerotiorum across crop species grown in MN and plans to collect a robust isolate collection this summer. Additionally, she attended dry bean, potato, sunflower, canola, and soybean grower meetings, and presented her research vision at Prairie Grains this fall. She is in the process of recruiting graduate students and staff to assist with upcoming projects.
McCaghey is excited to join our Department, which she describes as a “supportive community” and a “collaborative research environment.” During the interview process and in previous meetings, she appreciated the diversity of people she interacted with and the positive reputation of our Department. McCaghey is looking forward to teaching in Fall 2022 and looks to build on her previous experiences teaching, including as a primary instructor at the University of Wisconsin. McCaghey has described her new job as a perfect fit for her research experiences and interests. We couldn’t agree with her more! We cheerfully welcome McCaghey to our Department. McCaghey’s position is supported by the Agricultural Research, Education, Extension and Technology Transfer (AGREETT) program at the University of Minnesota.
My Plant Path: Pablo Olivera
Running around his grandparent’s vineyards in the suburbs of Montevideo, Uruguay was Pablo’s first exposure to plants and agriculture. Seeing the care that his family put into the crop and the joy after a good harvest were his main motivations to study a plant-related discipline. So, when the time came, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in Agronomy at the University of the Republic (Uruguay).
“I remember that even though my interest was on grape production, as an undergrad student, I became more and more fascinated with small grains’ production systems. I was interested in using genetic resistance to control diseases and reduce the use of pesticides,” Pablo recalled.
After completing his bachelor’s degree, Pablo got a position as a Teaching Assistant Professor at the University of the Republic. Teaching the next generation of Uruguayan agronomists was a big motivation for him, and these years around young students were a great beginning to his professional career.
Looking for an opportunity to live and study abroad, Pablo followed a tradition built by many Uruguayan scientists and professors: getting a PhD degree at the University of Minnesota. In a cold January in 2003, Pablo joined Brian Steffenson’s lab at the Department of Plant Pathology, first as an MS and then as a PhD student. As a graduate student, Pablo developed a strong interest in genetic diversity and the exploitation of wild relatives of cultivated species for crop improvement. At the same time, he became aware of the devastating effects that diseases can cause to growers, particularly in underserved countries: “Seeing the devastation that stem rust can produce to smallholder farmers was an eye-opener for me and a strong motivation to focus on international agriculture.”
Pablo considers himself a cereals rust pathologist. First during his postdoctoral position at Yue Jin’s lab, and now as Research Assistant Professor at the Department of Plant Pathology, Pablo’s research has a major focus on the wheat stem rust pathogen. His program has a strong international footprint, with research collaborations from all over the globe. Pablo is a partner of an international scientific network that is focused on monitoring the occurrence, spread, and evolution of new strains of the stem rust pathogen with emphasis on East Africa (Ethiopia and Kenya). He also closely collaborates with the USDA and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research to enhance and diversify the genetic resistance to stem rust in durum wheat. In addition to his international research, Pablo is also leading two projects funded by the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center focused on invasive buckthorn and barberry species.
“For the future, I expect to continue fostering international partnerships to conduct applied research that has a significant impact on the wellbeing of farmers and rural communities in impoverished countries.”
Writer in the Greenhouse
A note from Annie Harvieux, the new Communications and Relations Coordinator for the Department of Plant Pathology.
What can a former book editor with an English degree offer a Plant Pathology department? Ideally, she’ll become just the writing partner the plant pathologists need to supplement, promote, and spread the stories of their work to the broadest audience possible.
After speaking to Jim Bradeen and Ruth Dill-Macky in the interview process, I knew I was a match for PLPA because I sensed the power of curiosity and interdisciplinary thinking in this space. After work experiences ranging from bookstore events coordinator, to environmental nonfiction and poetry editor, to University of Minnesota HR communications, I come ready to draft, design, and edit just about anything. However, it was the clear desire shown by Bradeen and colleagues to have real, engaging conversations that welcome all types of people into important discussions of plant health and global food supply that made me feel ready and excited to take this role.
PLPA is a great workplace for a curious person, I’m finding! I am constantly being exposed to new things, whether that’s a greenhouse room full of cold-hardy grapevines or a conference room full of bacterial leaf streak experts from all across the Midwest. I understand that I’m not a plant pathologist, and that means that there are many things that I will need to listen to carefully, check, and check again before publishing. This dialogue and collaboration with experts is a key asset to me, as I believe the best communications are those that cross a divide: expert and newcomer, grower and researcher, scientist and artist. It’s in that friction, that moment of storytelling filling a gap, that progress is made.
Even amidst a continuing pandemic, the Department of Plant Pathology has found ways to be personal and warm to me on my arrival. I’ve gotten personal tours of labs and greenhouse rooms, listened and sipped coffee at conferences and thesis defenses, been gifted plant cuttings and homemade cookies, and heard earnest encouragement to bring my own curiosity, skills, willingness to learn, and life experiences to work.
When you see future Aurora issues, e-newsletters, webpage articles, and social media posts, know that I’m behind them and I welcome your ideas and feedback! And if you see me around, whether in the office, behind a library book or sketchbook at Mim’s, or even out on local trails cross-country skiing or trail running, please come introduce yourself. I’m delighted to become a part of this community.
How a pre-pandemic virtual workshop introduced key strategies for hybrid collaboration
BY NEVIN YOUNG
These days, many conferences and meetings are online. But what are the best strategies for organizing a successful virtual meeting? A recent publication in Trends in Microbiology by UMN Plant Pathology professor Linda Kinkel, along with post-doctoral fellows Michael Fulcher, Marian Bolton, Michael Millican, and Matt Michalska-Smith, describes a scientific workshop they organized in December 2019 (before the impact of COVID-19) that demonstrated many key strategies for success.
The National Science Foundation, the funding agency for the workshop, wanted a high-profile meeting exploring the exciting new area of microbiome research with broad and diverse participation, but had a limited budget. That meant that Linda, her postdoc team, and the other organizers could only invite a select set of participants to attend in-person. The challenge was how to attract, connect, and engage a much broader audience while ensuring a high-quality meeting experience for all. The resulting workshop – Deciphering the Microbiome – brought together more than 450 scientists from 25 countries, 388 of them virtually, for large audience lectures, intimate small-group discussions, one-on-one “hallway” conversations plus the creation of sustained special interest communities. At the encouragement of NSF program officers, the organizing team published what they learned about planning and executing successful online scientific meetings.
The team identified several key steps that lead to an effective online meeting. They found that the action with the most significant impact was creating multiple “virtual communities” that came together even before the start of the meeting. This enabled participants to become familiar with the tools for seamless communication and start to build online communities, including self-organized communities, ahead of time. One social networking tool that was especially helpful was Slack, which provided a platform for conference-wide discussion as well as more intimate discussions within individual virtual communities. The organizers found that pre-meeting training for moderators and for online participants to learn the software, get to know one another, and instill a sense of responsibility to participate were also essential for success.
Not only did the meeting bring together a worldwide community of researchers, organized in record time; Deciphering the Microbiome also acted as a catalyst for an entirely new microbiome funding program area within the NSF portfolio. Moreover, a special issue of the scientific journal, mSystems, is now publishing a collection of early career scientist-led Perspectives papers that summarizes the interdisciplinary microbiome science highlighted at the meeting. As the world expands the use of virtual meetings and conferences, the lessons from this meeting should be especially relevant.
“Changing of the Guard” at the USDA-ARS Cereal Disease Lab
BY MATTHEW ROUSE
For the last ten years, the scientists at the USDA-ARS Cereal Disease Lab (CDL) have remained the same. During the Covid-19 pandemic, this all changed with the retirement of two stalwart researchers in Dr. Corby Kistler and Dr. Les Szabo.
Dr. Kistler arrived at the CDL and Department of Plant Pathology in 1999, and spent 45 years conducting ground-breaking research on Fusarium graminearum, the cause of head blight (scab) of wheat and barley, and other fungal pathogens. Corby studied Fusarium species throughout his career including his time as a Professor at the University of Florida. His major contributions included the sequencing of the Fusarium graminearum genome, the discovery that many Fusarium genes involved in pathogenicity are located on supernumerary chromosomes, and the discovery of ‘toxisomes,’ the cellular organelles that are the site of toxin biosynthesis and that may facilitate toxin secretion. Corby is a Fellow of the American Phytopathological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In honor of Corby’s career on Fusarium, the Department organized a symposium on October 18, 2021, titled “Fusarium Biology in the 21st Century: A symposium in honor of Dr. Kistler’s retirement.” In retirement, Corby has enrolled as an undergraduate in the liberal arts at the University of Minnesota and is doing volunteer work in education.
Dr. Szabo grew up around Seattle, Washington and earned his degrees at Washington State University, Michigan State University, and Oregon State University. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Rockefeller University before joining the CDL and Department of Plant Pathology in 1988. He was tasked with studying what was considered an obscure pathogen at the time, Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici (Pgt), the cause of stem rust of wheat and barley. His early work laid the groundwork for genomics by showing that rust fungi have large complex genomes and Pgt has 18 chromosomes. This was followed by the first genetic map of Pgt in the year 2000. In 2011, Les reported the genome sequence of Pgt using Sanger sequencing. This was the first genome sequence of an obligate biotrophic plant pathogenic fungus known to science. Throughout his career, Les applied the latest technologies to studying Pgt, starting with AFLPs and culminating with high-throughput and long-read sequencing via Oxford Nanopore and Pac-Bio. Over the past ten years, Les has been the go-to-diagnostician for tracking the movement of Pgt around the globe. Les developed a 3,000-SNP array for studying the molecular diversity of Pgt and used this resource to develop diagnostic assays. Les J. Szabo retied in December 2021. The Department organized a research symposium to honor Les’s career on November 1, 2021, titled “Adventures in Rust Fungal Genomics and Surveillance.” In retirement, Les is enjoying a slower pace, tutoring his granddaughter science, and nature photography.
With the retirement of Corby and Les the Cereal Disease Lab is poised for a ‘changing of the guard’ as new scientists are hired. The Department of Plant Pathology congratulates Corby and Les on a job well done!
2021 Plant Health APS Annual Meeting: A Student’s-Eye Perspective
As my first ever APS conference experience, the Plant Health 2021 virtual conference was an enlightening experience. From Professor Sheng Yang He’s keynote address emphasizing the shifting dynamics of plant pathogen ecology and interactions brought on by climate change, to Research-On-Demand talks by graduate students tackling the latest frontiers of plant parasitic nematode-host plant interactions, the conference educated me on a number of fascinating fields of study. The virtual platform was well-suited for this as well; the freedom to pick and choose sessions at such a large-scale conference, in addition to recordings that quickly became available afterwards, made sure I was able to engage with all the content that interested me.
My personal highlight of the conference was a workshop titled “Present Your Science: Transforming Slide Design.” Presented by Melissa Marshall, founder of Present Your Science, the workshop was both an engaging retrospective on the banality of PowerPoint presentations, and a primer on how to reimagine and revamp the digital real estate that is the presentation slide. The most important lesson I took away from the workshop can be summarized as slide design being the largest determinant of the success and memorability of a presentation. I strongly suggest both faculty and graduate students to attend next year’s Plant Health conference to learn and to be inspired!
Over the past year and a half virtual conferences have quickly evolved and become the primary way to gather and share scientific research and stories. 2021 This is the second year that the American Phytopathological Society has held the Plant Health conference online and, in my opinion, it was quite successful. One thing I appreciate about Plant Health 2021 being an online experience is that the presentations and posters are available on-demand and can be accessed for up to a year. This really extends our access to great research and gives us time to utilize the knowledge generated by our colleagues. It is also nice to attend the conference from a location of your choice, sitting in a comfortable chair, drinking your favorite tea, and not worrying about the clothes you’re wearing or if you combed your hair. Those things aside, I wanted to highlight a unique approach that was used during the Special Session: Capturing TAL Effector Variation at the Pathogen-Host Molecular Interface to Anticipate Pathogen Emergence. This session resembled a documentary more than the typical presentations we have become used to seeing. The researchers were interviewed about their work and the conversation was coupled with their figures and video footage of the presenters conducting their research. Attending this session was a refreshing way to experience an online presentation and allowed the researchers a new way to tell their stories.
In 2021, for the second year in a row, the annual American Phytopathological Society conference was entirely virtual. Overall, I think everyone was well adapted to remote communication by then, and presentations worked well over Zoom. The online format brings its perks: I spent much of the conference in the backyard, taking breaks to pace around my garden, deadheading flowers and snacking on cherry tomatoes. To me, the most significant downside was that networking is much more difficult online. It’s harder to make a new friend over Zoom than at a catered social with a couple of drink tickets. This year, APS, to simulate these socials, has creatively employed a new platform called Wonder. On Wonder, your face appears as an icon on the screen next to all the other attendees of the event. Like in a video game, you use your arrow keys to walk around. You may walk to the table, where you will be connected by video chat with all the others at the table. Kind of awkwardly, if you bump into someone on the way to the table, both of you will be connected and end up chatting one on one, a new person’s face on your screen. It’s a fun little game, and its novelty gives you something to talk about. That said, hopefully we can all meet in person in Pittsburgh next year.
I appreciated meeting with colleagues from all over the world. The Plant Health Meeting has had strong international participation, and this year was not the exception. In my opinion, one of the main advantages of having a virtual meeting is the opportunity to seamlessly connect with colleagues no matter where they are. During the 5 days of the meeting, I had the opportunity to learn about the work done by colleagues in South and Central America, Europe, and Africa. It was very exciting to know what they are working on and the new findings in their respective research areas. As an international student, the virtual modality for the Plant Health Meeting signifies a great opportunity to overcome the logistical problems for researchers outside the USA.
My Plant Path: Dong-gyu Kim
Dong-gyu’s ties with the University of Minnesota began well before he was brought into this world. Having been conceived during his father’s time here as a Law School student, but born as a South Korean citizen, Dong-gyu has often joked about his blood ties with the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Ultimately, it was the strong undergraduate biological sciences program at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities that drew him here.
A happy encounter with plant-parasitic nematology research in the second half of his undergraduate education became Dong-gyu’s gateway to plant pathology research. In his passion for biochemistry and microbiology, Dong-gyu’s career ambitions were initially set in healthcare (most likely pharmacy) or pharmacological research. Guided research and laboratory employment with then-graduate student Deepak Haarith in the Bushley lab helped him realize that plant pathology research was the path he wanted to pursue.
Dong-gyu’s long-term ambitions are to pursue a career of research that allows him to uncover more about the molecular back-and-forth between organisms that shape our world. His Masters’ thesis research focuses on teasing apart the molecular bases of interaction between the soybean cyst nematode and its microbial antagonists, with an emphasis on nematode responses to stressors. His immediate research interests are how the components of interaction between plant-parasitic nematode and microbial antagonists translate when applied to a plant host/natural environment setting. However, Dong-gyu’s scientific curiosity extends to other plant pathogens and systems, and he’s excited to see where his academic career will go next.
Through opportunities provided by the Department and the MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures Professional Development Award, Dong-gyu feels privileged to learn about the impact on human well-being of microbes introduced through food production, and the tremendous scale of discoveries both made and yet to be made in understanding plant-microbe interactions.
Community Updates: In Memoriam, Retirements
It is with sadness that we share the passing of USDA-ARS Scientist and Plant Pathology Adjunct Professor Bill Bushnell on Friday, February 4 at the age of 90 of natural causes. Bill will be missed.
We would also like to honor the memory of Professor of Nematology David MacDonald, who passed away on October 15, 2021, at the age of 87. David will be remembered for his kindness and exceptional teaching.
Plant Virology Professor Ben Lockhart retired in November 2021 after a long and productive career. We will feature Ben and his career in the next edition of the Aurora Sporealis.