Graduate students in the Department of Plant Pathology have an active outreach group. In addition to participating in large outreach events like Bugfest and Triangle SciTech Expo at the Museum of Natural Sciences, they also visit local high schools to spread the word about how plant pathologists use biotechnology to manage plant pests. On April 4, 2014 they visited three of Mrs. Eckenrod’s sophomore biology classes at Princeton High School in Eastern North Carolina. Students performed DNA extractions from strawberry tissue, looked at fungal spores under a microscope, learned the basics of fungal isolation and culture maintenance, and learned how to transform geranium plants with agrobacterium. This outreach program aims to teach and inform the general public about plant pathology and current issues in world food production.
Not one, but two promising students have been awarded a 2014 Paul Ecke Jr. Scholarship. The merit-based scholarship honors the late floriculture pioneer and is awarded to M.S. or Ph.D. students who are on track to become exceptional researchers or educators.
Ecke recipient Emma Lookabaugh, a doctoral student at NCSU, has extensive experience in floriculture extension work and outreach activities, including more than five years experience at a diagnostic clinic. Her doctoral research focuses on Pythium and aims to combine sound floriculture research with disease management strategies.
Casey Ruark, a PhD student in the Department of Plant Pathology, was named as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow for 2014. The award includes three years of support for stipend as well as cost-of-education expenses. Casey’s proposed research topic is titled “Utilizing viruses within soybean cyst nematodes (Heterodera glycines) as a potential avenue for biocontrol”. In the United States as well as many other top soybean producing countries, soybean cyst nematode (SCN) is the most destructive pathogen to soybean crops. This damage is glaringly evident in North Carolina where an estimated sixty-percent of soybean acreage is infected with SCN resulting in annual yield losses of four to eight-percent. Casey’s research emphasis is in examining whether North Carolina field populations of SCN harbor viruses, and if these viruses result in a phenotypic change in the nematode that can be exploited as an environmentally safe biocontrol of SCN.
Each year the American Association for the Advancement of Science Council elects members whose “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished.” The honor of being elected a Fellow of AAAS began in 1874 and is acknowledged with a certificate and rosette. Dr. David Ritchie is being honored for significant contribution to the field of plant pathology, particularly for increasing our knowledge of bacterial pathogen ecology and evolution, leading to improved disease management.
Election as a Fellow of AAAS is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers. Fellows are recognized for meritous efforts to advance science or its applications.
Jean Ristaino (third from right) served as a senior science advisor and Jefferson Fellow in the Bureau of Food Security, Office of Agriculture Research and Policy (BFS/ARP). She worked on a portfolio of issues including human and institutional capacity development in Feed the Future countries. She helped launch the Borlaug Higher Education Agriculture Research Development Program and conducted a country- wide needs assessment of agricultural research capacity in Bangladesh. She worked with the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) and the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD) on human and institutional capacity development and implementation of BIFADS’s review of the Cooperative Research Support Program (CRSP). She conducted an analysis of the plant disease research portfolio in BFS/ARP and served as a technical point of contact on the emerging coffee rust outbreaks in Central America. She prepared an Agri-Links session on Emerging Plant Diseases: Tackling Global Challenges (http://agrilinks.org/blog/emerging-plant-diseases-tackling-global-challenges ) and has been asked to blog on her Jefferson Fellow year. She has been funded by the Keck Foundation and the Bellagio Conference Center to organize a meeting on ecosystem services and emerging plant diseases in Africa and has developed a network of US research scientists that plan to serve as mentors for the African Women interested in pursuing PhD’s in agriculture.
Plant diseases caused by Phytophthora species present major limitations to food security in the developing world. Late blight on potato caused by Phytophthora infestans caused the Irish famine, and Phytophthora species also limit production of cacao, taro and horticultural crops. Phytophthora is easily spread through international trade of plant materials and via airborne spores. Since plant pathogens do not carry passports nor recognize national borders, having a network of well-trained network of plant diagnosticians around the world benefits agriculture in the United States and abroad.
The international team led a diagnostic workshop in Honduras attended by 21 plant disease diagnosticians from six Latin American countries. Technologies for conducting rapid and accurate diagnostic assays for Phytophthora in plant and water samples under real-world working conditions were taught over four lab-intensive days. Students learned basic pure culture methods for isolating Phytophthora, morphological identification techniques, and state-of-the-art molecular diagnostics assays including PCR, ELISA and DNA sequences to identify species. The workshop was held at Zamorano University, which also hosts the Horticulture Innovation Lab Regional Center.
This was the second in a series of plant disease diagnostic workshops held in Latin America. The first workshop, also funded by USAID through the Horticulture Innovation Lab, was held in June 2010 and formed the basis of the Latin American Phytophthora Diagnostic Network,a network of well-trained plant disease diagnosticians throughout the region. Further workshops are planned for Southeast Asia and Africa.
With funding from USAID, the Horticulture Innovation Lab builds international partnerships—like this one between NC State plant pathologists and Latin American scientists—for fruit and vegetable research to improve livelihoods in developing countries.