Robert L. Gilbertson
Robert L. Gilbertson was born in Chicago, IL. He earned his B.S. degree in wildlife biology in 1978 and his M.S. degree in plant pathology in 1980 from the University of Massachusetts. After serving as an extension technician in the Department of Entomology at the University of Massachusetts from 1980 to 1981, he resumed his graduate education in plant pathology at Colorado State University, where he received his Ph.D. degree in 1985. Between 1986 and 1990, Dr. Gilbertson was a research associate and assistant scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as part of the USAID-funded Bean/Cowpea Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP). During this time, he worked with common bacterial blight and developed a new method for screening beans for resistance to Xanthomonas campestris pv. phaseoli, identified nonpathogenic pectolytic xanthomonads associated with bean debris, and was the first to develop a specific DNA probe to detect X. campestris pv. phaseoli. Later, working with bean-infecting geminiviruses, he generated infectious clones of three genetically diverse bean-infecting geminiviruses, and demonstrated their infectivity with particle bombardment. He continues to play a leadership role for a University of California-Davis (UC-Davis) Bean/Cowpea CRSP in East Africa, in which the primary goal is the development of bean varieties with multiple disease resistance.
In 1990, Professor Gilbertson joined the Department of Plant Pathology at UC-Davis. He developed a multidisciplinary research program in which he collaborates with industry to study basic and applied aspects of diseases of vegetable and field crops caused by plant-pathogenic bacteria, fungi, and viruses. In his research, he uses the latest molecular approaches to solve practical disease problems. Professor Gilbertson’s accomplishments demon strate a unique ability to bridge the gap between basic molecular biology and applied plant pathology.
His laboratory is involved in the characterization of whiteflytransmitted geminiviruses infecting various crop plants in the Caribbean and in Central and South America. In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Gilbertson’s laboratory demonstrated that tomato yellow leaf curl geminivirus had been introduced into the Dominican Republic from the Middle East. As a result of a subsequent recommendation, tomato production has returned to previous levels.
In other activities, his laboratory has molecularly characterized tomato mottle geminivirus from Florida, tomato leaf crumple geminivirus from Mexico, bean golden mosaic geminivirus from southern Mexico, and has partially characterized tomato-infecting geminiviruses from Brazil and Venezuela. Research on basic geminivirus biology has emphasized the phenomena of pseudorecombination between bipartite geminiviruses, and his group was the first to establish a viable pseudorecombinant. Other areas of research include host adaptation and cell-to-cell and long-distance movement.
In collaboration with Dr. W. J. Lucas of UC-Davis and Dr. R. F. Allison of Michigan State University, Dr. Gilbertson has conducted studies to identify proteins involved in potyvirus movement. Gilbertson and his colleagues have established that the potyviral coat protein and helper component protease are cell-tocell movement proteins.
Dr. Gilbertson’s laboratory also maintains a significant research program on seedborne plant pathogens. Efforts have focused on celery bacterial blight caused by Pseudomonas syringae pv. apii, carrot black rot caused by Alternaria radicina, bacterial blight of carrot caused by X. campestris pv. carotae, bacterial leafspot of lettuce caused by X. campestris pv. vitians, and bean common mosaic and lettuce mosaic potyviruses. Celery bacterial blight is a new disease in California, and Dr. Gilbertson’s laboratory has characterized the pathogen responsible for the disease and demonstrated its seedborne nature.
The development of PCR-based detection methods for the seedborne bacterial pathogens X. campestris pv. carotae and X. campestris pv. vitians provides the basis for current studies comparing standard seed wash methods with PCR-based methods to determine relative sensitivity and reliability of the PCR-based technology for routine detection of seedborne plant pathogens.
Professor Gilbertson teaches introduction to plant pathology in collaboration with Dr. Rick Bostock. He highlights concepts by providing actual disease specimens and anecdotes from his broad experiences as a general plant pathologist. He also co-teaches graduate courses in phytobacteriology and virology and has recently developed a new multidisciplinary course, plant virus vector interactions, with Drs. W. J. Lucas (plant biology) and Diane Ullman (entomology). He also serves as an editor for Plant Cell Reports and is an associate editor for Phytopathology.