Alfano focused on plant pathogen work

Dec 13th, 2012 | By | Category: 2012, Dec. 13, Issue, Research

James Alfano is awarded an AAAS fellowship for distinguished contributions in research of plant pathogens.

Alfano said he was flattered when he learned he had been named to the esteemed list after being nominated by UNL plant pathology professor James Van Etten, who also is an AAAS Fellow and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It feels great, and it’s nice to be recognized by such a prestigious organization,” Alfano said. “It was an honor just being nominated, a recognition of our hard work, and we’re going to continue to work hard.”

Alfano is Charles Bessey Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology. He has been at UNL since 2000. He researches how bacterial pathogens cause disease in plants and how their strategies differ from the strategies employed by the bacterial pathogens of animals.

His seven-member lab, which is associated with the Department of Plant Pathology and the Center for Plant Science Innovation at UNL, focuses on the pathogen Pseudomonas syringae and its interaction with plants. The pathogen’s key feature is a bacterial protein secretion system that injects bacterial proteins into plant cells, which allows it to grow in plants and eventually cause disease. Alfano’s research delves into plant cells to determine precisely how the bacterial proteins modify them to favor disease.

“We’re working to understand how and what (P. syringae) is targeting inside plant cells,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to identify new components of plant immunity. We’ve learned a lot about this plant-pathogen interaction — now we want to transform that knowledge into improvements in agriculture.”

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