Research Molecular Biologist
My current research program and interests are centered on the concept and understanding of the alfalfa pathobiome - a comprehensive biotic environment that includes a diverse community of all disease-causing organisms within the plant, defines their mutual interactions and the resultant effect on plant health.
With the advance of modern high-throughput sequencing approaches, the “one microbe - one disease” dogma is being largely reevaluated and interchanged with the principle of pathobiome. While numerous individual pathogens and diseases they cause in alfalfa are described in detail, the understanding of the crop’s pathobiome is poorly developed.
Viruses were found to be an integral part of this multi-pathogenic community within the biotic environment of the plant, representing a ubiquitous and abundant background for all other host-pathogen interactions. In agricultural production settings alfalfa plants are coinfected with a substantial number of different viruses, including well-known species, newly discovered pathogens and viruses formerly described in other hosts. Therefore, a significant share of my research program is focused on the surveillance, diagnostics, identification, and characterization of novel and emerging viruses in alfalfa to prevent their spread and avoid related yield losses.
As part of the larger undertaking, the project also investigates molecular mechanisms of stress tolerance in alfalfa in order to define the genetic basis of resistance and to accelerate breeding programs. In light of the pathobiome conception, this research involves study of the ‘field host genomics’, i.e., exploration of the host genomics responses to the collective pathobiome in the field through high-throughput transcriptomics. This approach can offer genomic insights into resistance to multi-pathogenic infections for acceleration of breeding programs. Besides, field pathobiome can be a powerful selective agent in plant evolution, affecting host fitness and agricultural traits.
In addition to commodity-related research (alfalfa), we have also carried out many interesting projects with my colleagues and collaborators domestically and internationally. These projects covered different topics of plant pathology, genomics, plant physiology, and plant molecular biology.
Prior to the research on alfalfa improvement, I worked on the characterization and molecular diagnostics of viral diseases of fruit trees, particularly cherry strain of the devastating plum pox virus, and later on the development of plant-derived vaccine candidates against major human and animal diseases like hepatitis C virus, avian influenza virus, Newcastle disease virus, mastitis in dairy cows, and others.