Xylella fastidiosa is an economically important plant pathogen in California and globally. This insect transmitted bacterium causes Pierce’s Disease (PD) in grapevines and Almond Leaf Scorch (ALS) in almonds. Across the state, there are two subspecies–subsp. fastidiosa and subsp. multiplex; each subspecies includes multiple strains from different climates. Previous genomic research in our lab has shown that strains vary genetically by climate, but greenhouse and field experiments are necessary to understand how each strain may perform in alternative climates. Our lab is currently running field experiments in a vineyard in Northern California, as well as greenhouse manipulations in grapevine and almond. We also perform disease transmission experiments coupled with real-time monitoring of insect behavior and microscopy, at the Oxford Tract Greenhouse in Berkeley. Research questions include: (1) how quickly does the pathogen colonize grapevines under field conditions?; (2) do strains from different climates colonize plants at the same rate under controlled conditions?; (3) did this pathogen adapt to different climates in California?; and (4) does this pathogen impact the biology of its insect vectors?. These questions have important applications for pest management in viticulture and agriculture.
The SPUR student will use molecular biology and microbiology techniques to quantify X. fastidiosa in field- and greenhouse-collected plant and insect samples. This will include sample processing, DNA extraction, qPCR, and bacterial culturing techniques. Training in all laboratory techniques will be provided. Additionally, there are opportunities to perform research with plant and insect samples and set up greenhouse experiments at Oxford Tract. If there is interest in field work, we can arrange for students to visit the experimental vineyard and collect plant samples and observational symptom data. Finally, our lab has expertise in genomics and bioinformatics, and can provide training in Python, R, and Bash scripting to students interested in bacterial genomics. Ultimately, the project and responsibilities will be shaped by the interests of the student.
Prior academic research or laboratory experience is not required. A keen attention to detail, willingness to ask questions, and respect for colleagues are required. The ideal student should be excited about biology, molecular ecology, evolution, and plant diseases.