PULLMAN – A young WSU researcher whose work has provided new tools and insights into the biology of plant pests will lay out a roadmap for the future of his discipline at a national conference in August.
Axel Elling, molecular nematologist and assistant professor of plant pathology, was selected to speak at the Schroth Faces of the Future in Nematology Symposium, which acknowledges the forward thinkers anticipated to be the field’s future leaders.
 
In addition, the speakers will have the opportunity to submit a mini-review for publication as a fully citable feature online at APSnet (American Phytopathological Society). They will highlight their philosophy and thinking about the future of their discipline.
 
Gene chip microarray in wide use
Elling, who joined the Department of Plant Pathology as a tenure-track assistant professor in 2009, is considered one of the most promising nematologists in the world, said Hanu Pappu, professor and department chair.
 
For example, the soybean cyst nematode EST (expressed sequence tag) dataset that he helped incorporate into an Affymetrix gene chip was the first (and remains the largest) commercially available microarray for a plant-parasitic nematode. It continues in wide use.
 
Investigates parasite-host interface
Elling is conducting cutting-edge research in the area of molecular plant-nematode interactions. His team is employing state-of-the-art techniques to identify and functionally characterize nematode genes (parasitism genes) that encode secreted effectors, which the nematode injects into infected host cells. Effectors are the molecular interface between the parasite and its host.
 
His cover paper in the International Journal for Parasitology provided the first evidence that a significant number of cyst nematode effectors are imported into the nuclei of host cells. Two more of his papers recently came out in the prestigious scientific journal Plant Cell.
 
Model for disease control
“Dr. Elling’s approach is innovative because he is dissecting the molecular interactions between plant-parasitic nematodes and their hosts in an integrated manner,” Pappu said. Without a better understanding of the role of nematode effectors, it will be difficult to make progress toward defining the fundamental principles that underlie plant-nematode interactions and to develop novel control strategies.
 
Elling is solving real-world nematological problems in a commercially important crop – potato – using the plant as a model system.
 
“Elling’s interest and expertise in answering fundamental questions of how nematodes recognize and attack plants has the potential to break new ground, leading to innovative disease control strategies,” Pappu said.
 
Mentors future generation
When not charting the future of his discipline, Elling trains its future generation. He is mentoring two Ph.D. students, one a Fulbright fellowship recipient.
 
Elling is active in the classroom as well. He teaches a graduate course in nematology (PlP 513) and lectures and organizes lab sessions on nematodes for the undergraduate course PlP 429: General Plant Pathology.