College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Department of Plant Pathology

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Anna Leon successfully defended her PhD dissertation on December 12th. Her dissertation was titled ‘Quantification and determination of inoculum threshold levels of Fusarium commune in Douglas-fir nurseries’. Anna’s committee included Gary Chastagner (Chair), Tim Paulitz, Ned Klopfenstein, and Lynne Carpenter Boggs.leon

Anna already has a job as a Nursery Pathologist with Weyerhaeuser.

Congratulations Anna!


Dr. Ying Zhai attended the Fall Commencement on December 7th and was hooded by her major advisor, Professor Hanu R. Pappu. Her thesis was titled ‘Genomic Characterization and Molecular Investigations into Negative-Stranded RNA viruses of Plants’. Zhai’s thesis committee included Drs. Hanu Pappu (Chair), Amit Dhingra (Horticulture), Ken Eastwell, and Neena Mitter (University of Queensland).  Zhai, for her PhD dissertation research, focused on tospoviruses and rhabdoviruses.  Using Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) as a model, she characterized the regions critical for the suppressor activity of the NSs protein and screened and identified regions in TSWV genome that are effective triggers of RNAi. She also studied the genome structure and organization of Eggplant mottled dwarf virus, a phytorhabdovirus. Zhai was bZhai graduation weborn in China and received her MS in Cell Biology from Hebei Normal University, Shijiazhuang, China, where she worked on rice blast resistance. She obtained her Bachelor’s in Biotechnology from Hebei University, Baoding, China. Before joining Pappu’s lab, Zhai was involved in teaching Botany and Molecular Biology at Shijiazhuang College and conducted research on rice functional genomics.

Guest – Hailing Jin

Jin dinner photo

Hailing Jin (second from right) with some graduate students and faculty at a dinner discussion

Hailing Jin, Professor of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, University of California at Riverside, was visiting Washington State University on December 3 and 4, 2014.  She was invited by graduate students of Molecular Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology, and hosted by graduate student Nicholas Mueth and Prof. Scot Hulbert.  She gave a seminar entitled “Small RNAs, the secret agents in the battle field of plant-pathogen interaction”.  During her visit, she also had discussions with graduate students, postdoctoral associates, and faculty members.  Jin’s research focuses on gene regulation and signal transduction in plant immunity.

Postdoctoral Research Associate: Plant Pathology / Soil Microbiology

Position Summary: Plastic mulches are used in agriculture to conserve water, suppress weeds, and optimize soil temperatures for certain crops. However, plastic mulch needs to be disposed of at the end of the growing season, resulting in labor and disposal and environmental costs. Biodegradable plastic mulches that can be tilled into the soil could alleviate such disposal issues. However, the effect of biodegradable mulch use on plant disease occurrence, and upon tillage into the soil on the survival of soilborne plant pathogens, is unknown. This work is part of a large, multi-institutional and interdisciplinary SCRI CAPS project, investigating the use of biodegradable plastic mulches for agriculture. The postdoctoral research associate will work as part of the project team, and be located at Washington State University’s Research & Extension Center near Mount Vernon, WA ( The position is available for up to two years with possibility of two-year renewal.  Read full announcement here.

Reducing the mess of shed Christmas tree needles

Nobody wants to set up a Christmas tree in their home and have the needles start falling off well before Santa chastagnershows up.

So to help tree buyers, Washington State University researchers are using a $90,000 grant to study the effect of ethylene on needle retention in species commonly grown in the Pacific Northwest.

Gary Chastagner, a professor of plant pathology at WSU, has studied Christmas trees since 1980. He’s made a career out of Christmas tree research, and he said needle loss is a huge concern for the industry.

Read full story here.

Student awarded scholarship

Bhanu Priya Donda  was a Walter J. Clore scholarship recipient this year.  The scholarship was started in 1997 by the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers to recognize and honor the research and lifetime achievements of Dr. Clore.  Bhanu is pursuing a PhD with Dr. Naidu Rayapati Bhanu Priya Dondaworking on the epidemiology and molecular biology of Grapevine leafroll associated virus.

Congratulations Bhanu!

Students Attend NSF Plant Post-Translational Modification Mass Spectrometry Workshop

Graduate students Zack Frederick and David Wheeler (Dr. Dennis Johnson’s lab) attended the NSF funded Plant Post-Translational Modification Mass Spectrometry Workshop at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Chicago, during November 17-18th. The workshop was hosted and organized by Drs. Jean Greenberg, Stephen Kron, Andrew Manning, Don Wolfgeher, and included guest speakers from the fields of proteomics, biomedicine, biochemistry, bioinformatics. Ten graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from Washington, California, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, and Spain Frederick Wheeler workshopparticipated in 2 days of lectures and panel discussions. Topics discussed during the workshop included sample preparation, instrumentation, quantitative proteomics, systems biology applications, mass spectrometry operation, data analysis, data validation, and case studies in plant and animal systems. Zack and David are eager to apply proteomics in their future research.

McCotter successfully defends MS thesis

Sean W. McCotter successfully defended his MS thesis, “Use of whole genome sequence data to characterize mating and RNA-silencing genes in Tilletia species,”  on November 18, 2014, in the Department of Plant Pathology at Washington State University.  His committee consisted of Lori Carris (Major Advisor), Dorrie Main, Patricia Okubara, and Lisa A. Castlebury.  Sean’s research demonstrated similarity between the bipolar mating system in Tilletia caries and previously characterized mating systems in other smut fungi, but also provided the first evidence for duplication of  homeodomain genes in fungi outside of subphylum Agaricomycotina.  In January, 2015, Sean will begin  a doctoral program with Dr. Jim Kronstad in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of British Columbia, where his research will focus on identifying sources of iron in planta for the phytopathogenic smut fungus Ustilago maydis and comparisons of the iron uptake mechanisms found in U. maydis and the related human pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans.

Carris and McCotter

Sean McCotter (right) with his major adviser, Lori Carris

Job announcement – Associate in Research

Washington State University, Department of Plant Pathology, Pullman, WA — An Associate in Research is sought to assist with laboratory, greenhouse and field wheat breeding and genetics research directed at understanding and manipulating plant response to soil borne plant pathogens.  The emphasis of this position will be on laboratory and greenhouse research, but will also provide limited support of field activities. Duties include, but are not limited to the following: organize and implement protocols to evaluate resistance to nematodes and  fungal pathogens; assess the molecular genetic diversity of wheat breeding and pathogen populations; design molecular markers and conduct marker assisted selection for pathogen resistance and for other traits important to breeding goals; establish and maintain laboratory and greenhouse experiments including disease evaluation; design experiments, collect and summarize data, analyze and report data in conjunction with the principal investigator; train and supervise temporary employees and interact with graduate students; maintain inventory of chemicals, molecular genetic stocks and pathogen isolates; order laboratory supplies and maintain laboratory equipment in conjunction with the principal investigator.  See the full announcement and application procedures here.



Rollins completes MS degree

Lucy Rollins recently completed her MS in Plant Pathology at Washington State University. Lucy’s thesis title was “A comparison of detection and quantification methods for Phytophthora ramorum in water and threshold levels of inoculum in irrigation water required for infection of rhododendron leaves.  Her committee consisted of Gary Chastagrollinsner (Major Advisor), Lori Carris, and Dennis Johnson.  In her work, Lucy compared methods to detect and quantify zoospores in water, including various baiting methods as well as filtration and qPCR.  She also tested inoculum threshold levels in simulated over-head irrigation of greenhouse/nursery plants. Her results will help guide the nursery industry in how to manage this broad host-range pathogen while irrigate their plants.  Lucy enjoys projects that work with the public so will be looking for these types of opportunities in the future.

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