Millikan Lecturer Archive

2018 – Hailing Jin

Hailing Jin
The 12th annual Millikan Memorial Lecture, “Cross-kingdom RNAi and sprayinduced gene silencing for crop protection,” was given by Hailing Jin, Professor & Cy Mouradick Endowed Chair, University of California – Riverside.


2016 – Giles Oldroyd

Giles Oldroyd
The 11th annual Millikan Memorial Lecture, “Dissecting and engineering symbiosis signalling in plants,” was given by Giles Oldroyd, Professor, John Innes Centre.


2015 – Ken Shirasu

Ken ShirasuThe 10th annual Millikan Memorial Lecture, “Hunting the Witch: Molecular Elucidation of Plant Parasitism,” was given by Professor Ken Shirasu, Plant Immunity Research Group, RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science Kanagawa, Japan.

The main goal of my group is to understand the molecular mechanism of immunity in plants. We plan to systematically identify and characterize genes, proteins and small molecular compounds that are important for the defense by using genomics, proteomics and metabolomics approaches. We aim to elucidate signaling network system for plant immunity by analyzing expression patterns of defense related genes and their post transcriptional regulation, such as protein modification. Pathogen infection of plants is economically damaging to agricultural industries worldwide.Understanding the molecular basis of disease resistance mechanisms plants utilize in nature will provide new strategies to combat pathogens.


2014 – Savithramma Dinesh-Kumar

Savithramma Dinesh-KumarThe 9th annual Millikan Memorial Lecture, “Emerging perspectives on plant innate immunity,” was given by Savithramma Dinesh-Kumar, Professor at the University of California – Davis.

We are pursuing basic research activities to understand the molecular mechanisms by which plants mediate innate immunity. This includes determining how plant immune receptors recognize invading pathogens, initiate immune signaling, and execute defense responses. Towards reaching this goal, we are taking multiple complementary approaches including forward and reverse genetic screens, biochemical and live cell imaging approaches along with innovative genomics and proteomics approaches.

The 9th Annual Millikan Memorial Lecture hosted by the Students for the Advancement of Plant Pathology (SAPP) was held on October 1, 2014 at 3:30pm in the Monsanto Auditorium of the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center. Dr. Jane Parker of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding in Cologne, Germany gave a talk entitled, “Plant Innate Immunity to Host-Adapted Pathogens”


2013 – Jane Parker

Jane ParkerThe 8th annual Millikan Memorial Lecture, “Plant innate immunity to host-adapted pathogens,” was given by Jane Parker of Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research.

Plants have evolved a multi-layered innate immune system to protect tissues against pathogenic microbes. We’re studying how Arabidopsis regulates its resistance programs to adapted biotrophic pathogens. I will describe progress on several fronts in understanding effector-triggered immunity (ETI) mediated by intracellular NLR receptors and how one NLR sub-class (called TNLs) co-opts the central and rather versatile EDS1 basal resistance regulatory node for effective ETI.

The 8th Annual Millikan Memorial Lecture hosted by the Students for the Advancement of Plant Pathology (SAPP) was held on November 6th, 2013 at 3:30pm in the Monsanto Auditorium of the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center. Dr. Jane Parker of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding in Cologne, Germany gave a talk entitled, “Plant Innate Immunity to Host-Adapted Pathogens”


2012 – Geert Smant

Geert SmantThe 7th annual Millikan Memorial Lecture, “Suppressors and activators of plant innate immunity in nematode secretions,” was given by Geert Smant of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Parasitic nematodes have evolved clever strategies to live inside their hosts for a long time. Nematodes hijack host cells such that the host reallocates part of its essential resources to the parasite. In many cases this unique phenomenon of nematode parasitism does not elicit a defence response in the host. The key nematode molecules that are accountable for host cell transformation and suppression of the host defence responses are thought be in nematode secretions.

Nematode secretions are in fact complex mixtures of hundreds of different proteins. Each of these proteins target different cellular and molecular processes in the host. It is our objective to resolve the identity of these individual effectors in nematode secretions and to understand how they contribute to parasitism.

Some of the nematode effectors activate host defence responses, whereas others suppress immunity in the host. We aim to understand the evolutionary and molecular dynamics between activators and suppressors of host immunity, which is essential knowledge for treatment and control of nematode infections. Our research program includes molecular studies of animal and plant-parasitic nematodes.


2011 – James Carrington

James CarringtonThe 6th annual Millikan Memorial Lecture, “Small RNA Mechanisms in Plants,” was given by James Carrington, PhD, President of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Carrington joined the Danforth Center in May 2011 from Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, where he served as the Stewart Professor and Director, Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing. He has studied the diversity and functions of endogenous small RNA pathways that control gene silencing in plants and other organisms. He also identified and characterized key principles of virus-host interactions, including the role of RNA silencing in antiviral defense. His current work focuses of the function and diversification of RNA silencing pathways that affect development and disease in model plants and pathogens.

Danforth Center president to give sixth annual Millikan Memorial Lecture – Mizzou Weekly (PDF)


2010 – Gregory Martin

Gregory MartinThe 5th Annual Millikan Memorial Lecture, “Elicitation and suppression of plant immunity by Pseudomonas type III effectors AvrPto and AvrPtoB,” was given by Gregory Martin, PhD. Professor at Cornell University.

The Martin laboratory studies the molecular basis of bacterial pathogenesis, plant disease susceptibility, and plant immunity. Most of their research focuses on bacterial speck disease which is caused by the infection of tomato leaves with the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato. This is an economically important disease that can decrease both the yield and quality of tomato fruits. It also serves as an excellent model system for understanding plant-pathogen biology because much is known about the molecular biology of this pathosystem and many genomics resources are available for both tomato and P. s. pv. tomato.

Gregory Martin’s work in the tomato-Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato system was some of the first to demonstrate the molecular mechanisms of disease resistance in plants and is pivotal to our current understanding of plant-microbe interactions.


2009 – Xinnian Dong

Xinnian DongThe 4th Annual Millikan Memorial Lecture, “Dissection of Plant Immune Signaling Network,” was given by Xinnian Dong, PhD. Scientist at Duke University.

Xinnian Dong’s main research goal is to understand the interactions between microbes and their hosts. She uses Arabidopsis thaliana as a model organism to perform genetic and genomic studies of plant immune responses. Dr. Dong is especially interested in the response known as systemic acquired resistance (SAR), which when induced can provide plants protection against a broad spectrum of pathogens. The Dong laboratory has identified several key components in this inducible defense response. Among them, NPR1 has been shown to play a central role. A loss of NPR1 function results in hypersensitivity to disease, whereas over-expression of NPR1 leads to enhanced, broad-spectrum resistance. Currently, the Dong laboratory is using new genetic and genomic tools to construct the plant immune network and to investigate how SAR, a short-term immune response, is mechanistically linked to the plants’ long-term survival strategies during evolution.


2008 – Frederick M. Ausubel

Frederick M. AusubelThe 3rd Annual Millikan Lecture, “PAMP-Mediated Signaling Pathways in Arabidopsis,” was given by Frederick M. Ausubel, PhD. Scientist at Harvard University.

Dr. Ausubel is primarily interested in identifying and characterizing the molecular aspects of signal transduction in prokaryotes and in hosts that interact with prokaryotes, from the discovery of virulence factors in bacteria and fungi to host defense responses in plants and worms. These host-pathogen interactions are explored through a variety of methods, both experimentally and computationally. His laboratory pioneered the use of direct screens for identifying Arabidopsis mutants that exhibit aberrant responses to pathogen attack. Similarly his laboratory pioneered the development of C. eleganspathogenicity models that have shown that C. elegans does indeed mount an innate immune defense response to pathogens that can be dissected by traditional genetic analysis. His rationale for studying both animals and plants is that there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that many of the underlying mechanisms of microbial pathogenesis and corresponding host defense responses are similar in plants and animals and that the study of Arabidopsis and C. elegans defense responses will be synergistic.


2007 – Marilyn J. Roossinck

Marilyn J. RoossinckThe 2nd Millikan Lecture, “RNA Virus Ecology and Evolution,” was given by Marilyn J. Roossinck, PhD. Scientist at the Noble Foundation.

Dr. Roossinck is interested in understanding how and why viruses evolve to cause disease. The majority of viruses probably do not cause disease, but research in virology has been extremely biased. The only viruses that have been studied are those that cause disease in humans and their domestic plants and animals. Measures to control virus diseases, especially in plants, have been largely unsuccessful. It is unlikely that any effective measures will be designed until we can understand why normally benign, or even beneficial, viruses evolve to cause disease. We are using several approaches to tackle this question: we are studying the dynamics of virus populations and the mechanisms of evolution using RNA plant viruses in the family Bromoviridae; we are assessing the biodiversity and ecology of wild plant viruses that generally do not cause disease; and we are studying the mechanisms of a lethal virus-induced disease in tomato.


2006 – Eric Triplett

Eric TriplettThe First Millikan Lecture, “Progress in the Biology of Diazotrophic Endophytes,” was given by Eric Triplett, professor and chair, Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, University of Florida.

Endophytic bacteria are defined as those bacteria that enter plants without causing disease or any organized symbiotic structures. There are three important reasons to study bacterial endophytes. First, these bacteria often enhance plant growth under field and greenhouse conditions. Second, these strains can fix nitrogen and we hope to find ways to improve the nitrogen nutrition with such strains. And third, some human pathogenic bacteria can colonize the interior of plants.

We have learned that strains within the same bacterial species can differ radically in their ability to enter plant hosts. We are seeking to understand the basis of this strain-specificity. We also know that an endophyte can have a broad-host-range and colonize monocots as well as dicots. For most of this work, we use a model endophytic bacterium called Klebsiella pneumoniae 342, also referred to as Kp342. A single cell of Kp342 in the inoculum is sufficient to fully colonize several plant hosts. This strain fixes nitrogen and can enhance the growth of a number of plant hosts.