USDA affiliation: Research Molecular Biologist, USDA-ARS Robert W. Holley Center firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
- Plant viruses in the Luteoviridae family devastate many crop varieties, including potatoes, small grains and cotton. The viruses are spread by sap-sucking aphids, which transmit the pathogen into a plant’s vasculature as they feed. Unfortunately, no adequate strategies exist to control these viruses. BTI faculty member Michelle Heck and Joshua Chappie of Cornell University’s College […] Read more »
- We are pleased to announce that six BTI researchers received their degrees from Cornell University this spring. Congratulations to our newest alumni: Jason Hoki, Schroeder lab, PhD in Chemistry & Chemical Biology, Dissertation title: “Development of click-chemistry based enrichment strategies to characterize ligand binding and metabolism” Jennifer Wilson, Heck lab, PhD in Plant Pathology, Thesis […] Read more »
- We would like to congratulate five BTI graduate students who are Spring 2020 Schmittau-Novak Grants Program recipients. Supported by a bequest from the estate of Jean Schmittau in honor of Joseph Novak, Cornell University Plant Biology Professor Emeritus, the Schmittau-Novak Small Grants Program is designed to provide graduate students in Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant […] Read more »
- Citrus greening disease, also called huanglongbing (HLB), is a bacterial infection of citrus trees that results in small, misshapen and sour fruits that are unsuitable for consumption, ultimately killing the tree. Because there is no cure, HLB is a major threat to the $10 billion citrus industry in Florida, where it was first detected in […] Read more »
- 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 »
- 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 »
- 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 »
- 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 »
- 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 »
- 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 »
- Michelle Cilia has been 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. Read more »
- A new paper from the Cilia lab reports that the Asian citrus psyllid mounts an immune response against the bacterium that causes citrus greening disease - a discovery that may be useful for developing a treatment against the devastating epidemic. Read more »
- A group of students and experts work together through video conferencing to identify the genes in the genome of the newly sequenced Asian citrus psyllid, the insect that spreads the bacterium that causes citrus greening disease. Read more »
- The bacterium believed to cause citrus greening disease creates multiple changes in both the Asian citrus psyllid that carries it and the beneficial bacteria that live within the insect. Read more »
- The detection of 10 new citrus greening disease cases in California citrus trees weighed heavily on attendees of a recent citrus greening research meeting. Read more »
- A diverse group of researchers has teamed up to develop a therapeutic treatment for citrus greening disease, a bacterial infection that threatens the future of the U.S. citrus industry. Read more »
- EPA has granted temporary approval of two genes from spinach to be used in citrus plants. "There is a critical need to go beyond citrus to find novel resistance genes that provide protection..." Read more »
- Postgraduate Society members at BTI host EYH (Expanding your Horizon) workshop to help girls understand genetics and feel more comfortable in the world of science. Read more »
- Assistant Professor Michelle Cilia and four members of her lab attended the International Conference for Huanglongbing. They joined hundreds of other researchers in Orlando, Fla. Feb. 9-13, to present their research on this disease. Read more »
- The Boyce Thompson Institute starts off 2015 with a generous gift from the Triad Foundation and researchers are about to open their most exciting present: a high-resolution mass spectrometer. The instrument, which can determine the chemical formula – and possibly even the structure – of unknown molecules, isn’t on everyone’s wish list. But scientists at […] Read more »
- Georg Jander, Michelle Cilia and Angela Douglas organized Hemiptera (sucking insects) conference held on December 4, 2014. Read more »