Dr. Devanshi Khokhani joined the Department in August, 2020 as a tenure-track Assistant Professor specializing in plant-associated bacteria. Dr. Khokhani has a broad experience in working with plant pathogenic bacteria such as Dickeya dadantii, Erwinia amylovora, and Ralstonia solanacearum and multitrophic interactions of plant-beneficial bacteria and fungi. She just moved to twin cities from Wisconsin, where she has lived since 2009. If the transition of moving her family to a different state and starting up a new lab was not difficult enough, Dr. Khokhani jumped right into teaching Plant Bacteriology this fall semester. Though Covid-19 presents unique challenges to teaching at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Khokhani is confident that the guidelines and resources that are in place will ensure a successful and safe course. Dr. Khokhani is no stranger to teaching and served as a full-time lecturer at Saint Xavier’s College in India for two years in addition to five years of experience as a teaching assistant. She emphasized that flexibility in accommodating student safety with optional online teaching via the HyFlex model combined in addition to a relatively small class size for the bacteriology course leaves her without major concerns.
In coming to Minnesota, Dr. Khokhani is most looking forward to starting her own lab to be able to lead research on the topics and directions that will fulfill her long-term research goals of enhancing plant health and developing sustainable strategies for increasing crop yields. Dr. Khokhani is particularly excited to pursue research towards identifying the beneficial aspects of microbial communities that can be leveraged to develop solutions for protecting plants from disease. For this research direction, Dr. Khokhani will build on her previous work on multitrophic interactions involving nitrogen fixing bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi, and plants as an Assistant Scientist at the Department of Bacteriology of the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison. She envisions working with bacterial pathogens important to Minnesota agriculture, such as Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. nebraskensis (Cmn), the cause of Goss’s wilt and blight of corn. She is interested in understanding how these gram-positive bacteria make it to the xylem vessels of corn and what are the key nutrients that the pathogen thrives on inside the plant. Dr. Khokhani’s experience in studying virulence factors in Ralsontia solanacearum as a Research Associate in the Department of Plant Pathology at UW, Madison and her Ph.D. experience on the type three secretion system at UW, Milwaukee prepares her well to also identify virulence mechanisms in Cmn and other problematic bacteria. Fundamental discoveries on such bacteria could lead to novel strategies to control the corresponding diseases. Overall, her research program provides a unique opportunity to prospective lab members to learn and explore both pathogenic as well as symbiotic plant-microbial interactions.
When reflecting on her visit to the Department during her interview, Dr. Khokhani commented that ‘it felt a lot like family’ and that she felt comfortable and open. The Department couldn’t be more pleased to welcome Dr. Khokhani to Minnesota. Dr. Khokhani will add valuable bacteriology expertise to the Plant Pathology Department which has been a major deficit since the retirement of Dr. Carol Ishimaru. Welcome home, Devanshi Khokhani!