Skip to main content
ARS Home » Northeast Area » Ithaca, New York » Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture & Health » Emerging Pests and Pathogens Research » Docs » Michelle Cilia

Michelle Cilia
headline bar



Michelle L. Cilia
Research Molecular Biologist
USDA-ARS, BioIPM Research Unit

Adjunct Assistant Scientist
Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research

Adjunct Assistant Professor
Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology
Cornell University
(607) 255-4596 (Voice)
(607) 255-2459 (FAX)



Ph.D., Watson School of Biological Sciences, 2005
B.A., Boston University, 1999 

We are interested in understanding the complex relationship between viruses, insect vectors and plant hosts with a focus on viruses infecting small grain crops. A major emphasis is to use a combination of molecular, genetic, and proteomics approaches to understand how aphids and plants regulate the virus transmission process. A second area is in the development of new pest management tools to enhance cultural control and to provide new management strategies of virus disease in plants.  In our lab, we study viruses that are transmitted by aphid vectors.

Plant viruses are transmitted by insects by two different mechanisms. Potyviruses bind to the mouth parts of the aphid and are rapidly transmitted to new hosts during feeding. However, members of the Luteoviridae circulate throughout the bodies of their aphid vectors prior to transmission. The latter mechanism is called circulative transmission and relies on a series of temporally and spatially regulated protein interactions within the aphid body and in the phloem of plant hosts. We apply a variety of state-of-the-art technologies including mass spectrometry, high throughput DNA/RNA sequencing, confocal microscopy, molecular genetics, and 2-D fluorescence gel electrophoresis to study plant virus transmission by aphids.

Several of the proteins involved in virus transmission by aphids have practical applications in that they serve as robust biomarkers for identifying populations of aphids that can efficiently transmit viruses. These proteins are the first biomarkers for vector competence for pathogen transmission. This work opens the door for novel virus and integrated pest management strategies, enabling a complete modernization of agricultural pest management practices. Using mass spectrometry, we are establishing targeted methods to quantify peptides that distinguish between efficient and poor insect vector populations.  We are collaborating with scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle and at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Africa to develop these methods into a useful tool for virus disease management and prevention in staple food crops in Africa and elsewhere in the world.


Cilia M, Peter K, Bereman M, Howe K, Fish T, Smith D, Gildow F, MacCoss MJ, Thannhauser T, and Gray S (2012) Discovery and targeted LC-MS/MS of purified polerovirus reveals differences in the virus-host interactome associated with altered aphid transmission.  PLoS One, Accepted with minor revisions.

Chavez JD*, Cilia M*, Weisbrod CR, Ju HJ, Eng JK, Gray SM, and Bruce JE (2012) Cross-linking measurements of the Potato leafroll virus reveal protein interaction topologies required for virion stability, aphid transmission, and virus-plant interactions. J. Proteome Res. 11: 2968-2981. *Co-senior authors.

Cilia, M, Bereman, M, Fish, T, MacCoss, M, and Gray, S.   (2012) Homopteran vector biomarkers for circulative plant virus transmission are expressed in multiple aphid species and the whitefly, Bemisia tabaci.  Journal of Integrative Agricultural, Special Issue:  The whitefly Bemisia tabaci species complex and begomoviruses, 11(2): 249-262.

Cilia, M, Howe, K, Fish, T, Smith, D, Mahoney, J, Tamborindeguy, C, Burd, J, Thannhauser, T and Gray, S.   (2011) Biomarker discovery from the top down: protein biomarkers for efficient virus transmission by insects (Homoptera: Aphididae) discovered by coupling genetics and 2-D DIGE, Proteomics, 11:2440-58 [featured on issue cover].

Cilia, M, Tamborindeguy, C, Fish, T, Howe, K, Thannhauser, T and Gray, S.  (2011) Genetics Coupled to Quantitative Intact Proteomics Links Heritable Aphid and Endosymbiont Protein Expression to Circulative Polerovirus Transmission. J. Virology 85: 2148-2166 [featured on issue cover]

Cilia, M, Tamborindeguy, C, Rolland, M, Howe, K, Thannhauser, T. and Gray, S.  (2011) Tangible benefits of the pea aphid genome sequencing and annotation for aphid proteomics: enhancements in protein identification and data validation for homology-based proteomics. J. Insect Physiology, 57: 179-190.

Cilia, M, Fish, T, Yang, X, McLaughlin, M, Thannhauser, TW and Gray, S (2009) A comparison of protein extraction methods suitable for gel-based proteomic studies of aphid proteins. J Biomol Tech 20: 201-15.

Benitez-Alfonso, Y, Cilia, M, San Roman, A, Thomas, C, Maule, A, Hearn, S and Jackson, D (2009) Control of Arabidopsis meristem development by thioredoxin-dependent regulation of intercellular transport. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 106: 3615-20.

Cilia, M (2009) Towards sustaining women through critical transition points in scientific careers: a workshop summary. J Biomol Techniques 19:353-55.

Cilia, ML and Jackson, D (2004) Plasmodesmata form and function. Curr Opin Cell Biol 16: 500-6.

Cilia, M, Cantrill, L and van Bel, A.  (2002) Plasmodesmata 2001: On safari through the symplast. The Plant Cell 14: 7-10.

Kim, JY, Yuan, Z, Cilia, M, Khalfan-Jagani, Z and Jackson, D (2002) Intercellular trafficking of a KNOTTED1 green fluorescent protein fusion in the leaf and shoot meristem of Arabidopsis. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 99: 4103-8.