USDA affiliation: Research Molecular Biologist, USDA-ARS Robert W. Holley Center email@example.com
Dr. Michelle Heck leads an active vector biology research group within the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. Dr. Heck has joint appointments at the Boyce Thompson Institute, the USDA ARS, and Cornell University.
Heck’s research program uses a combination of molecular, genetic, and proteomics approaches to understand how insects transmit plant pathogens and how pathogens manipulate host plants to ensure replication and transmission. A second area of research is the development of new pest management tools to enhance cultural control and to provide new management strategies for insect vector-borne diseases in plants.
There is no cure for plant viruses so prevention of insect transmission and infection are key areas of research. Viral genomes encode only a handful of proteins, and it is clear that highly tuned virus-host and virus-vector protein interactions ultimately give rise to the stealthy nature of these viruses. Severe knowledge gaps exist in the biophysical mechanisms that vector-borne viruses employ to be transmitted, a stunning fact in light of the devastating impact vector-borne viruses have in food security and public health. The long-term goal of Heck’s research is to create innovative virus-vector management solutions that could have a disproportionate and transformative impact in resource-poor, food-insecure nations. To achieve this goal, Heck collaborates on research activities with colleagues at a number of research institutions in the US and abroad.
Another pathosystem studied in the lab is citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing, which currently threatens the US citrus industry. Affected citrus tress produce bitter, green fruits and eventually die from the infection. The bacterium C. Liberibacter asiaticus is thought to be the causal agent of the disease and is spread from tree to tree by the Asian citrus psyllid, Diaphorina citri. Heck’s group is working to develop an early detection method by identifying proteins generated by citrus trees soon after infection. They are also using Protein Interaction Reporter Technology, a chemical cross-linking mass spectrometry technology developed by collaborators in the Bruce Lab at the University of Washington, to study the protein interactions that regulate transmission by the insect vector.
Heck’s group has a highly interdisciplinary focus where students can learn a wide variety of skills and techniques ranging from plant, vector and virus molecular biology and genetics, live-cell imaging, plant cell culture and transgenic technologies, biochemical labeling techniques, protein interaction identification and applications of mass spectrometry. Professor Heck accepts graduate students from the Graduate fields of Entomology and Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology. Dr.Heck participates as a mentor in the Cornell University Chemical Biology Interface Program. Funding is always fluid and interested students and postdocs should email Dr. Heck about available positions. A major outreach focus of the Heck lab is providing undergraduate research experiences. Undergraduate students interested in gaining hands on, meaningful research training in the areas of molecular biology, chemical biology, and proteomics are encouraged to contact us.
Dr. Heck’s USDA webpage: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Aboutus/docs.htm?docid=21274
Dr. Heck leads an NIH-funded, two-week intensive course on mass spectrometry-based proteomics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. CSHL Proteomics Course information can be found at: http://meetings.cshl.edu/courses/2015/c-proteo15.shtml
Dr. Heck was one of the organizer’s of the 2014 Hemipteran-Plant Interactions Symposium (HPIS), June 22-25, 2014, University of California, Riverside
January 2017, Dr. Heck was selected to receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), which recognizes outstanding, government-funded scientists who show great potential for becoming leaders in their field and for expanding the frontiers of scientific knowledge.
Jared Mohr, Cornell CAS ’16 chemistry major, received the 2015 Frank L. Howard Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the American Phytopathological Society (APS). The award is given to a single undergraduate each year to support research in plant pathology. The fellowship will fund Mohr’s work on early detection of Huanglongbing, which he will present this summer at the APS meeting in Pasadena, California.
Ph.D. candidate Patricia Valle Pinheiro received the 2015 Rawlins Endowment Award from the Cornell Department of Entomology. The prize will support her participation in the Arthropod Genomics Consortium meeting in Manhattan, Kansas in June. Patricia also received a USDA AFRI travel grant to attend the 2014 Entomology Society of America meeting in Portland, Oregon.
Dr. Stacy DeBlasio, a USDA ARS postdoctoral associate, won a travel award to attend the 2014 American Society of Plant Biologists meeting in Portland, Oregon.
Dr. Heck was named the USDA ARS Herbert L. Rothbart Outstanding Early Career Scientist of the Year in 2014 for her work in cutting edge vector biology. She was selected as one of the Schroth Faces of the Future Symposium Awardees, and traveled to the 2014 APS-CPS Joint Meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 2014 symposium was entitled “Schroth Faces of the Future: Virology.” Dr. Heck presented her current work and philosophy and speculated on future directions.
- New clues to how the bacteria associated with citrus greening infect the only insect that carries them could lead to a way to block the microbes’ spread from tree to tree, according to a study in Infection and Immunity by scientists at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Read more »
- BTI’s Mueller and Heck Labs, in collaboration with 21 partner institutions, recently published a draft assembly and annotation of the D. citri genome. Read more »
- New research finds that the Asian citrus psyllid responds to the citrus greening bacterium by producing an oxygen-transporting protein called hemocyanin. The protein not only turns them blue, but suggests that they are trying to fight off the infection. Read more »