Carol L. Bender
Carol L. Bender was born in San Antonio, Texas. She received a B.S. degree in agronomy at Texas Tech University in 1978, and then began graduate studies in plant pathology at Oregon State University with Dr. D. Coyier. After finishing an M.S. degree in 1983, she received a Ph.D. in 1986 from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), where she studied the genetic basis of copper resistance in Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato under the direction of D. A. Cooksey. After graduating from UCR, Dr. Bender joined the plant pathology faculty at Oklahoma State University (OSU) where she currently holds the title of Regents Professor.
The major goal of Dr. Bender’s research has been to understand how bacteria parasitize plants, centered on production of the phytotoxin coronatine and other factors critical to virulence in P. syringae. She is recognized for studies that established a novel mixed polyketide and nonribosomal peptide synthetase mechanism for coronatine biosynthesis. Her laboratory cloned and sequenced the relatively large coronatine gene cluster and revealed its similarity to polyketide and peptide biosynthetic mechanisms in bacteria and fungi of pharmaceutical significance. Because coronatine is a functional and structural analog of the phytohormone jasmonic acid, she has helped define the role of the phytotoxin in coordinately repressing the expression of pathogenesisrelated defense genes and inducing the expression of jasmonate/ wound response genes. Dr. Bender’s research program illustrates how fundamental aspects of phytotoxin production and disruption of plant signaling can influence bacterial interactions with plants.
Dr. Bender also has made significant contributions to understanding the role of alginate, an extracellular polysaccharide produced by P. syringae, in virulence and epiphytic fitness. Alginate has long been known to be a virulence determinant of the human pathogen P. aeruginosa by triggering pulmonary infections in patients afflicted with cystic fibrosis. Her laboratory has characterized the alginate biosynthetic gene cluster of P. syringae, demonstrating that it is virtually identical to that of P. aeruginosa. Nevertheless, she established that the regulation and signals that activate alginate biosynthesis are different between the two Pseudomonas species. These and other studies of alginate by Dr. Bender’s laboratory embody a significant milestone in understanding the role of bacterial exopolysaccharides in host–pathogen interactions.
Dr. Bender has an active record of training and mentoring graduate students and post-doctoral associates in plant pathology. Since 1988, she has supervised the research of 10 Ph.D. and five M.S. students, several of whom have been honored with awards for graduate research excellence. She also has guided the research activities of 11 post-doctoral associates. Carol teaches a course on “Physiology of the Host–Pathogen Interaction.” In addition, she participates in teaching an undergraduate course on “Applications of Biotechnology in Agriculture” as well as a graduate level course on “Molecular Plant Pathology” taught via Internet II. She was recognized at OSU with a Technology Innovator Award for Teaching in 2004 for her role in the development of “Molecular Plant Pathology via Internet II.” This innovative course takes advantage of real-time, interactive Internet II technologies to link collaboratively with classes at Kansas State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In recognition of her research accomplishments, Dr. Bender received the James A. Whatley Award for Meritorious Research in Agricultural Science (1993) and the Gamma Sigma Delta Alumni Award from UC-Riverside (1996). Dr. Bender also has been active in service to APS and IS-MPMI, serving as associate editor for Phytopathology and Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, treasurer (1999–2003) for IS-MPMI, and organizer and participant of APS-sponsored symposia including the hot topic “Plant Pathogen Forensics” in 2004. She has served on numerous peer panels for competitively funded research, including NSF. She has co-organized many international scientific sessions, and is frequently invited to speak about her studies of virulence systems of P. syringae at national and international meetings. She has participated continuously in the U.S.-Japan Seminar series since 1995. She has collaborated with scientists in New Zealand, Germany, Norway, and England, and with scientists in the United States at Rice University, UC-Riverside, Washington University, University of Florida, and USDA-ARS labs at Ithaca, NY, and Beltsville, MD. In 1994, Dr. Bender spent a study leave at the Mt. Albert Research Centre at Auckland, New Zealand, with Robin Mitchell to expand the research focus on the biochemical mechanism of coronatine synthesis.
In conclusion, Dr. Bender is a pioneer in defining the role of a bacterial toxin in plant pathogenesis through studies of the biosynthesis, regulation, and mode of action of coronatine. Her research program has revealed the mechanisms responsible for coronatine biosynthesis and how the toxin functions by inhibiting host plant defense responses. She is recognized internationally as an authority on bacterial phytotoxins and other virulence systems of plant-pathogenic bacteria and their relationship to analogous systems of mammalian pathogens. She is well known as an excellent collaborator in both research and teaching. She is also co-inventor on a patent where coronatine is used to control abscission in citrus, an achievement that demonstrates how basic science can directly benefit agriculture.