James Alfano

James Alfano

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James Alfano
Charles Bessey Professor

  • PH.D., Washington State University, 1993

My research interests are concerned with understanding how bacterial pathogens cause disease in plants and how their strategies differ from the strategies employed by bacterial pathogens of animals. Research in my laboratory primarily is focused on understanding a specialized protein secretion apparatus, called the type III secretion system, present in gram-negative bacterial pathogens of plants and animals. Type III systems secrete multiple virulence proteins, some of which are transferred directly into eukaryotic cells in a contact dependent manner. Acquisition of a type III secretion system appears to be a key adaptation that allowed many gram-negative bacteria to become pathogens - mutants with a disabled type III system are essentially nonpathogenic.

My research group studies the type III secretion system present in the bacterial plant pathogen, Pseudomonas syringae. P. syringae is a leaf spotting pathogen whose various strains display host specificity: Different strains are only capable of causing disease in certain plants. We study the interactions of P. syringae with such crop plants as tobacco, soybeans, and tomato, as well as the interactions of P. syringae with the genetically amenable plant Arabidopsis. Studying the interaction of P. syringae and Arabidopsis. is particularly attractive because it allows us to relatively easily identify key molecular attributes of both the pathogen and the host with the long-term goal of understanding the intimacies involved in bacterial parasitism.