Michelle Heck

Associate Professor, USDA Scientist
Michelle Heck
mlc68@cornell.edu
Office/Lab: USDA@BTI 123/110
Phone: 607-254-5453
Office/Lab: USDA@BTI 123/110
Email: mlc68@cornell.edu
Office Phone: 607-254-5453
Lab Phone: 607-254-5262
Affiliations: Research Molecular Biologist, USDA Agricultural Research Service / Section of Plant Pathology & Plant- Microbe Biology / School of Integrative Plant Science / Cornell University
Research Overview

USDA affiliation: Research Molecular Biologist, USDA-ARS Robert W. Holley Center michelle.cilia@ars.usda.gov

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.

See more...
Heck lab 2017

The Heck lab is a leader in host-vector-pathogen interaction research, vector biology methods development, teaching and scientific communication. We are mission-driven, first and foremost. At the heart of our success is our ability to integrate information and experiments across disciplines and to apply new technologies to solve problems, old and new. We pride ourselves on fostering a supportive work environment and our tenacious and rigorous approach to the pursuit of science. Heck lab members use their expertise and love of problem solving to have a measurable impact in agriculture, biological research and human-scale challenges, while training the next generation of scientists. We strive to create a training and research environment that fosters trust and honesty to benefit our own scientific careers, members of the scientific community – including our local scientific community of administrative staff, students, and collaborators – the agricultural community, U.S. tax payers, the environment and all of mankind.

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.

Dr. Cilia and her graduate student David Igwe.

Dr. Heck and her graduate student David Igwe, from the IITA in Nigeria, scout for insects that transmit plant viruses.

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

Recent Awards

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.

  • BTI’s Michelle Heck and Joyce Van Eck Guest on Podcasts

    Boyce Thompson Institute is happy to share that two of our faculty members recently appeared as guests on popular podcasts. The content of these podcasts illustrate the breadth of research being done at the Institute to help increase global food security, improve human health and benefit the environment. Joyce Van Eck guested on the Gastropod […] Read more »
  • BTI Researchers Discover Interactions Between Plant and Insect-Infecting Viruses

    Aphids and the plant viruses they transmit cause billions of dollars in crop damage around the world every year. Researchers in Michelle Heck’s lab at the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Boyce Thompson Institute are examining the relationship at the molecular level, which could lead to new methods for controlling the pests. Heck’s group used […] Read more »
  • Congratulations to BTI’s PhD Graduates!

    We are pleased to announce that seven Boyce Thompson Institute researchers received their PhD degrees during the Cornell University commencement ceremony on May 26. Congratulations to our newest alumni: Mariko Alexander, Heck lab, “Searching for the missing links: Connecting polerovirus structural biology to function” Junsik Choi, Richards lab, “Arabidopsis nuclear lamin protein CRWNs and their […] Read more »
  • BTI’s Olivia Gomez Places 4th in APS Councilors’ Challenge

    The Boyce Thompson Institute is pleased to announce that Olivia Gomez, a third-year undergraduate researcher in Michelle Heck’s lab, has placed fourth in the American Phytopathological Society’s Councilors’ Challenge. “Thank you to my mentor Michelle and to the BTI team for all the help and support!” Gomez said. The theme for the 2018 APS Councilors’ […] Read more »
  • Blood, sweat and tears: All in a day’s work fighting citrus greening disease

    Around this time last year, PhD student Angela Kruse and postdoctoral scientist Dr. John Ramsey were huddled over microscopes, using tiny needles to painstakingly extract blood, also known as hemolymph, from 300 Asian citrus psyllids – insects about the size of a sesame seed. Despite their innocuous appearance, these psyllids can carry the bacteria that […] Read more »

Lessons from One Fastidious Bacterium to Another: What Can We Learn about Liberibacter Species from Xylella fastidiosa
2019.
Kruse, A., Fleites, L.A., Heck, Michelle L.
Insects.
10
:
E300
Distribution and Variation of Bacterial Endosymbiont and “Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus” Titer in the Huanglongbing Insect Vector, Diaphorina citri Kuwayama.
2019.
Hosseinzadeh, S, Shams-Bakhsh, M, Mann, M, Fattah-Hosseini, S, Bagheri, A, Mehrabadi, M, Heck, Miche…
Microb Ecol.
78
:
206
The Identity of a Single Residue of the RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase of Grapevine Fanleaf Virus Modulates Vein Clearing in Nicotiana benthamiana
2019.
Osterbaan, L.J., Choi, J., Kenney, J., Flasco, M., Vigne, E., Schmitt-Keichinger, C., Rebelo, A.R., …
Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions.
:
Looking Through the Lens of ‘Omics Technologies: Insights Into the Transmission of Insect Vector-borne Plant Viruses
2019.
Wilson, J.R., DeBlasio, S.L., Alexander, M.M., Heck, Michelle L.
Current Issues in Molecular Biology.
34
:
113–144
Plant Viruses Transmitted in Two Different Modes Produce Differing Effects on Small RNA-Mediated Processes in Their Aphid Vector
2019.
Pinheiro, P.V., Wilson, J.R., Xu, Y., Zheng, Y., Rebelo, A.R., Fattah-Hosseini, S., Kruse, A., Santo…
Phytobiomes.
3
:
71–81
Color morphology of Diaphorina citri influences interactions with its bacterial endosymbionts and ‘Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus’
2019.
Hosseinzadeh, S, Ramsey, J, Mann, M, Bennett, L, Hunter, WB, Shams-Bakhsh, M, Hall, DG, Heck, Michel…
PLOS One.
14
:
e0216599
Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus Minimally Alters Expression of Immunity and Metabolism Proteins in Hemolymph of Diaphorina citri, the Insect Vector of Huanglongbing
2018.
Kruse, A., Ramsey, J.S., Johnson, R., Hall, D.G., MacCoss, M.J., Heck, Michelle L.
Journal of Proteome Research.
17
:
2995–3011
Targeted disruption of aphid transmission: a vision for the management of crop diseases caused by Luteoviridae members
2018.
Heck, Michelle L., Brault, V.
Current Opinion in Virology.
33
:
24–32
Distribution and Variation of Bacterial Endosymbiont and “Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus” Titer in the Huanglongbing Insect Vector, Diaphorina citri Kuwayama
2018.
Hosseinzadeh, S, Shams-Bakhsh, M, Mann, M, Fattah-Hosseini, S, Bagheri, A, Mehrabadi, M, Heck, Miche…
Microb Ecol.
:
The Interaction Dynamics of Two Potato Leafroll Virus Movement Proteins Affects Their Localization to the Outer Membranes of Mitochondria and Plastids
2018.
DeBlasio, S.G., Xu, Y., Johnson, R.S., Rebelo, A.R., MacCoss, M.J., Gray, S.M., and Heck, Michelle L…
Viruses.
10
:
585
Disruption of chloroplast function through downregulation of phytoene desaturase enhances the systemic accumulation of an aphid-borne, phloem-restricted virus
2018.
DeBlasio, S. L., Rebelo, A. R., Parks, K., Gray, S., Heck, Michelle L.
Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions.
:
Insect Transmission of Plant Pathogens: a Systems Biology Perspective
2018.
Heck, Michelle L.
mSystems.
3
:
e00168-17–e00168-17
The quest for a non-vector psyllid: Natural variation in acquisition and transmission of the huanglongbing pathogen ‘Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus’ by Asian citrus psyllid isofemale lines
2018.
Ammar, E. D., Hall, D. G., Hosseinzadeh, S., Heck, Michelle L.
PLOS One.
13
:
e0195804–e0195804
A Stem-Loop Structure in Potato Leafroll Virus Open Reading Frame 5 (ORF5) Is Essential for Readthrough Translation of the Coat Protein ORF Stop Codon 700 Bases Upstream
2018.
Xu, Y., Ju, H. J., DeBlasio, S., Carino, E. J., Johnson, R., MacCoss, M., Heck, Michelle L., Miller,…
Journal of Virology.
92
:
Diaphorina citri Nymphs Are Resistant to Morphological Changes Induced by “Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus” in Midgut Epithelial Cells
2018.
Mann, M., Fattah-Hosseini, S., Ammar, E. D., Stange, R., Warrick, E., Sturgeon, K., Shatters, R., He…
Infection and Immunity.
86
:
Potato leafroll virus alters small RNA production in its aphid vector during plant viral infection to promote virus dispersal
2017.
Wilson, J., Pinheiro, P., Xu, Y., Zheng, Y., Rebelo, A. R., Fattahalhosseini, S., Kruse, A., Dos Sil…
PHYTOPATHOLOGY.
107
:
206–207
Host protein interaction network associated with the non- incorporated form of the potato leafroll virus RTP identified using mass spectrometry
2017.
Deblasio, S. L., Rebelo, A. R., Johnson, R., Gray, S., MacCoss, M., Heck, Michelle L.
PHYTOPATHOLOGY.
107
:
24–24
Improved annotation of the insect vector of citrus greening disease: biocuration by a diverse genomics community
2017.
Saha, S., Hosmani, P. S., Villalobos-Ayala, K., Miller, S., Shippy, T., Flores, M., Rosendale, A., C…
Database : the journal of biological databases and curation.
2017
:
Leveraging ‘omics technologies to develop new initiatives for controlling vector-borne plant pathogens
2017.
Deblasio, S., Heck, Michelle L.
PHYTOPATHOLOGY.
107
:
6–6
Comparative proteomics to identify critical proteins for transmission of Candidatus Liberibacter asiacticus by the Asian citrus psyllid
2017.
Kruse, A., Saha, S., Johnson, R., Fattahalhosseini, S., Warwick, E., Sturgeon, K., MacCoss, M., Shat…
PHYTOPATHOLOGY.
107
:
9–9
 

Contact:

Boyce Thompson Institute
533 Tower Rd.
Ithaca, NY 14853
607.254.1234
contact@btiscience.org