Caitilyn Allen was born in Göttingen, Germany, and grew up in the American Midwest. She received her B.S. degree in botany from the University of Maine in 1981 and her Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1987. After appointments as a post-doctoral research associate in Lyon, France, and an assistant scientist at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison, she was hired in 1992 as an assistant professor jointly appointed in UW-Madison’s Department of Plant Pathology and Women’s Studies Program. She now is a professor in plant pathology and currently serves as department chair.
Allen’s record exhibits extraordinary breadth and depth in each of the areas of research, teaching, international agriculture, and service to the profession and APS. Not surprisingly, she has received numerous awards, nationally and internationally, for her achievements.
Allen studies the basic biology of the interactions between the soilborne bacterial wilt pathogen Ralstonia solanacearum and its host plants. Many of her studies focus on a subgroup of this species, Race 3 biovar 2 (R3bv2), which survives and causes disease in temperate zones where the tropical and subtropical strains of R. solanacearum do not. R3bv2, which is not established in North America, is a quarantine pest and Select Agent pathogen because it is considered a severe threat to U.S. potato production. A major theme of Allen’s research is to better characterize and determine the biological mechanisms underlying this unique and potentially dangerous epidemiological trait. A second theme is to use genetic approaches to understand how R. solanacearum in general causes bacterial wilt disease. A third theme is to determine how plant hosts defend themselves against bacterial wilt. Overall, her work is characterized by a focus on the biology of the pathogen in its natural environment. Her methods are largely molecular, but her questions are driven by curiosity about pathogen evolution, understanding of agronomic systems, and a desire to address a serious agricultural problem.
This approach has resulted in highly significant findings that have contributed substantially to our understanding of R. solanacearum colonization and pathogenesis. Her group has used bacterial mutants and biologically representative plant assays to identify many of the pathogen’s defining traits and strategies. These include pectolytic enzymes, swimming motility, taxis, tolerance of oxidative stress and plant antimicrobial chemicals, and the ability to respire under low-oxygen conditions. She has used open-ended genomic and transcriptomic approaches to create a microbe’s eye view of life inside plants and to generate testable hypotheses about virulence mechanisms. Allen is an enthusiastically collaborative scientist, working closely with diverse colleagues around the world and regularly welcoming international scientists to her lab. She has published 58 articles in refereed journals, edited three books, and directs a well-funded program supported by, at various times, USDA-NRI, USDA-NIFA, USDA-ARS, NSF, USAID, and the Franco-American Cultural Exchange.
Allen is also a skilled, dedicated, and innovative teacher and has received university and national awards for her teaching, including the 2005 APS Award for Excellence in Teaching. At UW-Madison, she created a number of new courses, including a highly successful course on Biology and Gender, and she is an active and skilled instructor at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her classroom teaching evaluations are outstanding, ranging from 4.58 to 4.94 on a 1–5 scale. She has been major professor to 22 current and past graduate students, and more than 35 undergraduate researchers have worked in her lab. Allen also played a seminal role in developing and directing our campus’s pioneering Women in Science and Engineering Residential Program. More recently, she created a new graduate course in Tropical Plant Pathology that includes a multiweek field component in Guatemala. This course, which was offered for the third time in 2013, exposes graduate students to the social, cultural, and economic aspects of agriculture and phytopathology in the tropics. The course fills to capacity every time it is offered and is highly acclaimed and successful.
Allen’s international work dates back to her post-doctoral fellowship in Lyon, France. Since that time, she has maintained strong connections with the French research and teaching world, spending two research sabbatical leaves in France and teaching while there. In addition to hosting French scholars in her lab, she has recently developed an M.S.-level student exchange between UW-Madison and Sup-Agro in Montpellier, France. In 2008, Allen received the prestigious Palmes Academiques from the French government for her significant contributions to French education and culture.
Allen’s international activities extend beyond her efforts in France. She has been a liaison, workshop leader, conference organizer, and field researcher in countries including Guatemala, South Africa, the French West Indies, and China, and in addition, she has presented her research in several other countries. At UW-Madison, she served 8 years as a special science advisor to the dean of international studies and, in 2008, received the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Award for Excellence in International Activities.
Allen’s outreach work has developed as a continuation, in many ways, of her research program and international programs. She played a key role in R. solanacearum quarantine and diagnostic issues arising from repeated accidental introductions of R3bv2-infected geranium cuttings to the United States, including numerous contacts and presentations for the press, diagnosticians, floral industry, potato industry, and regulatory community. Her finding that R3bv2 is not transmitted by casual foliar contact is credited with preventing significant losses to greenhouse owners following geranium wilt outbreaks, and she has helped develop more sensitive and reliable diagnostic tools for this Select Agent pathogen. She has also advised the Department of Homeland Security and USDA-APHIS regarding agricultural biosecurity. Most recently, she has collaborated with breeders at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala to develop locally acceptable tomato lines resistant to bacterial wilt.
Allen has played a vital role in service to her department, university, and profession. Currently, she serves on the Editorial Board for Frontiers in Plant-Microbe Interactions and as senior editor for APS PRESS. She has also served as an associate editor for MPMI and Molecular Plant Pathology and has reviewed numerous grants, journal manuscripts, book chapters, etc. She has served on a National Academies of Sciences emergency panel for citrus greening disease, on an American Society for Microbiology planning board, and as an external department reviewer. Her committee service to APS has been extensive and substantial, including Visioning, Bacteriology, Agricultural Bioterrorism, and the Future of Plant Pathology.
Clearly, Caitilyn Allen is an extraordinary faculty member whose outstanding accomplishments in any single area of teaching, research, service, and international work merit the high recognition that she has garnered. Her combined success in all four of these areas leaves no doubt that she is an exceptional candidate for an APS fellow.