Martin B. Dickman
Martin B. Dickman was born in Flushing, New York, on February 16, 1953. He received his B.S. degree in horticulture and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in plant pathology from the University of Hawaii. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute of Biological Chemistry at Washington State University, he joined the faculty at the University of Nebraska in 1987 as an assistant professor, was promoted to full professor in 1997, and is now the Charles Bessey Professor of Plant Pathology.
Dr. Dickman’s research program is focused primarily on fundamental studies in fungal–plant interactions, including regulation of pathogenicity genes during fungal pathogen growth and differentiation in host plants, host–pathogen signal communication, and the mechanism of action of fumonisin, a mycotoxin produced in plant tissue with significant pathological consequences for livestock and potentially for humans. He is particularly interested in examining the molecular mechanisms that govern plant disease and stress responses. Early in his research career, Dr. Dickman recognized the potential of molecular and genetic approaches to address fundamental questions in host–pathogen interactions. He characterized an extracellular cutinase from Colletotrichum gloeosporioides and determined its role in pathogenesis of papaya through the development and analysis of cutinase-deficient mutants. He showed that insertion of the cutinase gene into a wound pathogen enabled it to infect intact plants. In studies on other fungal pathogens, he developed and analyzed mutants to establish oxalic acid as a pathogenicity factor in Sclerotinia sclerotiorum and later showed that it functions by suppressing the oxidative burst. He developed nitrate nonutilizing mutants to study vegetative compatibility and genetic relatedness in Colletotrichum species. His studies on the role of cyclic AMP and calcium in fungal development and the participation of signal transduction pathways involving various classes of protein kinases and phosphatases in pathogenesis are among the most thorough and significant contributions in this area of plant pathology.
Currently, Dr. Dickman’s primary emphasis is on programmed cell death (apoptosis) and the extent to which parallels exist between plant and animal systems. The overall goals of his studies are understanding the mechanisms that regulate programmed cell death and implementing intervention or alternative strategies to generate transgenic plants with novel mechanisms of pathogen resistance. He generated a number of transgenic model and crop plants that express anti-apoptotic (delayed death) genes from humans, chickens, insects, and nematodes and showed that pression of these genes abolishes disease development in tobacco plants inoculated with various fungal pathogens and viruses. His results suggest that disease development requires common responses and cellular pathways. Characteristic hallmarks of apoptosis, such as DNA fragmentation, occurred in susceptible plants during infection but not in transgenic resistant plants. Plants that he generated with mutations in the transgenes were not protected against the pathogens. Significantly, the transgenic plants also displayed tolerance or resistance to a number of abiotic stresses, e.g., heat, cold, salt, UV light, and drought. Thus, Dr. Dickman has developed a working plant system to demonstrate the efficacy and feasibility for use of some of the most interesting genes in the repertoire of biological systems. The potential scientific and economic benefits of his research are enormous. His interest in potentially common mechanisms of infection by plant and animal pathogens and common mechanisms of resistance led to his key participation in establishing the first national program in comparative pathobiology, which is now a graduate program in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska.
Dr. Dickman’s teaching activities have been equally innovative. He and colleagues Dr. Tom Wolpert at Oregon State University and Dr. Jan Leach at Kansas State University were the first to use the Internet-2 in a real-time, team-taught course, Molecular Biology of Host–Pathogen Interactions, broadcast simultaneously in three states. This course has been featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education as well as in popular print and television venues. Reviews have been outstanding from students. Dr. Dickman’s teaching repertoire includes a graduate course on signaling mechanisms and science presentations in local schools from kindergarten to high school. Using plant pathology models and a contagious excitement for science, he presents a biotechnology viewpoint to allay apprehension in tomorrow’s scientists and to convey the positive aspects of science and of a university professor.
Dr. Dickman has served APS as a member and subsequent chair of the Biochemistry, Physiology, and Molecular Biology Committee and currently as a senior editor for APS PRESS. He has also served plant pathology by founding and chairing the NCR-173 Committee on the Genetic Basis for Pathogenicity in the Genus Colletotrichum and in various review assignments. In addition, he has served on the editorial boards of a number of journals, including Mycologia, Archives of Microbiology, and Applied and Environmental Microbiology, and is currently a senior editor for Physiological and Molecular Plant Pathology. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Hawaii and the University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources Junior Faculty Recognition for Excellence in Research Award and is a consultant with the scientific instrument company ISCO Corporation and Idun Pharmaceuticals. For his innovative and creative research contributions, scientific leadership, and service to APS and the plant pathology profession, Dr. Dickman is recognized as a highly deserving recipient of the APS Fellow Award.