Ralph A. Dean
Ralph Dean received his undergraduate degree in botany from the University of London (England) in 1980 and his Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from the University of Kentucky in 1986. Following a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Georgia, he joined the plant pathology faculty at Clemson University where he also chaired the interdisciplinary program in genetics and was associate director of the Clemson University Genomics Institute. In 1999, he joined the Department of Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University as a professor. In 2001, he also became the founding director of the Center for Integrated Fungal Research. In 2004, he received the Secretary’s Award of Honor from the USDA and the Huxley Memorial Medal from Imperial College, London. In 2005, he was appointed as a William Neal Reynolds distinguished professor in plant pathology. He is currently a senior editor of Molecular Plant Pathology and has served as senior editor of Phytopathology. He has served on numerous USDA and NSF grants panels.
Dean has established an internationally recognized research program. He has done this through his creativity, a vision for the future direction of science, and strong leadership. Early on, he chose to focus on Magnaporthe grisea, the rice blast fungus, as his experimental system based on the economic importance of this pathogen and its tractable genetics. At the time, few researchers, other than those in industry, were conducting fundamental studies on this organism. In his initial work, Dean conducted elegant studies on the infection process by the fungus that led to the identification of a cAMP-dependent kinase signaling cascade necessary for infection-related development and penetration of the host tissue. Further research showed that this signaling pathway was absolutely necessary for pathogenicity and involves communication between the host and the pathogen. Dean was among the first to embrace genomic approaches for the advancement of our understanding of plant pathogenesis and is widely recognized as a leader in the microbial genomics community. Again, he chose M. grisea as the focus of his principle genomic efforts. As new tools for genomic analysis became available, Dean was quick to realize their power for understanding the complex interactions between two organisms. He embraced these tools and set out to sequence the genome of M. grisea, starting with chromosome 7. Through his determination and leadership, he obtained funding from the USDA and NSF to complete the entire sequence of M. grisea. These endeavors led to the release of the complete sequence and genomic organization in an article in Nature in 2005. He also has played a leading role in decoding the rice genome. His most recent efforts have focused on a functional analysis of the interaction between rice and the rice blast fungus, employing gene expression profiling, large-scale mutagenesis, and proteomics approaches to define the transcriptional networks governing the host–pathogen interaction.
Dean’s portfolio includes a truly exceptional publication record of over 50 refereed publications and numerous book chapters and reviews in prestigious journals. The distinctive characteristic of the quality of his publication portfolio is that 11 of these publications each have over 50 citations. While some of these publications document his leadership in fungal genomics, many document his substantial contributions to understanding the molecular basis of fungal development, using appressorium development as a model, and his willingness to share expertise with applied programs. While he receives most of his recognition for his work with M. grisea, he has additional genomics projects on fungi of industrial importance such as Trichoderma and Aspergillus and is also identifying host genes for resistance to Fusarium in cucurbits. He was also issued patents for a fungal diagnostic assay as well as for detection of a disease resistance gene. Evidence of his prominence in the genomics field is his position on the steering group for the Fungal Genome Initiative hosted by the Whitehead Institute that is partially supported by the Human Genome Initiative at NIH. He is also a lead member of the International Rice Blast Initiative. Dean has supervised 19 graduate students and 15 post-doctoral fellows, several of whom hold faculty positions at leading research universities.
In addition to his core research activities, funded from a variety of federal and industrial sources, Dean is also engaged in departmental responsibilities as well as local outreach programs. He is frequently called upon by university officials to represent the university in genomics issues. He and his research group have developed an innovative outreach program on genomics that is coordinated by Science House, an educational outreach program at NC State. This includes programs for students and teachers. Dean’s research group is also active in exhibits such as the genomics program at the NC Museum of Natural History and at the NC State Fair. One of the most innovative outreach programs developed by Dean and his group is the Summer College for Biotechnology and the Life Sciences (SCIBLS). SCIBLS is an opportunity for talented high school students to learn about molecular biology through hands on experience with cutting edge techniques and to interact with college students and faculty on a daily basis. In addition to experiencing the university environment, students tour research facilities in the nearby Research Triangle Park where they hear first hand about careers in science. Dean has developed a world class research program that has received accolades at all levels and is distinguished by a novel outreach program. These attributes all warrant his receipt of the Fellow Award from The American Phytopathological Society.