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Eric L. Davis
Eric L. Davis
Eric L. Davis was born in Long Branch, NJ, in 1958. He received a B.S. in plant science in 1980 from the University of Rhode Island, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Nematology in 1984 and 1988, respectively, from the University of Florida. After postdoctoral positions in the USDA in Orlando and at the University of Georgia, he joined the faculty of the Department of Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University in 1993.
Davis has made seminal discoveries in the area of host-nematode interactions, which have changed our way of thinking and strategies to examine how nematodes interact with their hosts. Davis has taken the approach of identifying an applied problem and performing basic research on the underlying biology with a goal of applying these results to design novel management strategies. His primary focus has been on the fundamental aspects of root-knot and cyst nematode feeding site establishment in host roots, and he has made ground-breaking discoveries in this area. Though a daunting task, Davis, along with colleagues, has been able to develop systems to study the role of effector secretions during nematode feeding site formation, a process that had long eluded scrutiny. What he and his collaborators discovered has revolutionized our thinking and approaches to understanding fundamental mechanisms in this critical stage in host-nematode interactions. The approach has uncovered more than 100 candidate effector/parasitism genes adapted by root-knot and cyst nematodes -- findings that have been paradigm-shifting and revolutionary. Remarkably, a number of these newly identified molecules turned out to be products of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) between bacteria and nematodes. Although at the time of discovery this was a controversial finding, it is now abundantly clear that HGT plays a crucial role in the evolution of parasitic abilities in nematodes. These findings opened new research avenues in many labs worldwide and resulted in a general agreement that HGT plays a central, seminal role in evolution of nematode parasitism of plants. This work has broad implications across the fields of parasitology, biology, and evolutionary processes.
In an elegant series of experiments, Davis and colleagues clearly demonstrated that root-knot and cyst nematodes secrete effector molecules to initiate and establish host parasitism and that these effectors interact directly with host proteins, a finding of remarkable importance. His research identified novel plant CLE peptide hormone mimics produced and secreted by the nematode during host interactions. This finding, though previously unsuspected, truly shattered previous ideas regarding molecules involved in feeding site formation and made biological sense given the nature of the interaction. The knowledge and resources developed by Davis and his colleagues is the culmination of many years of working with root-knot and cyst nematodes and a tremendous achievement for the global scientific community. This is a testament to both the international reputation he carries and the esteem with which his colleagues hold his work.
Davis is an international leader and pioneer in his field, and has forged new areas of research in plant nematode functional genomics. He is one of the leading figures in the international plant nematode genomics community, yet he is also very involved in applied aspects of nematology. His Renaissance man-like ability to straddle the divide between the lab and the field is truly unique given the current era of specialization in nematology. The adaptation of host-derived RNA interference (RNAi) to silence target nematode effectors proved to be both a unique functional analysis and potential means to engineer nematode resistance in crops. His scholarly contributions are numerous and well documented by invitations to write key book chapters and reviews, notably publications in
Annual Review of Phytopathology, New Phytologist
and a comprehensive book chapter on phytoparasitic nematodes, where he provides a re-evaluation of the risks and regulations to manage devastating diseases of crops caused by plant-parasitic nematodes.
Davis has served several key leadership roles in the university, college and professional societies. He currently serves as Head of the Department of Plant Pathology, was the Director of Graduate Programs from 2009-2013, and served as the founding Director of the Kelman Scholars Undergraduate Research Program at NC State from 2005-2010. He has been active in his professional societies throughout his career, serving as President of the Society of Nematologists and APS Scientific Program Co-Chair in 2007 and President of the Plant Pathology Society of North Carolina in 2004. He is committed to expanding opportunities to graduate education, as evidenced by his active role in establishing student fellowships and internships with Syngenta Crop Protection, BASF, and Bayer CropScience. His own role as a teacher and mentor is exemplary, and he has mentored multiple graduate students and postdocs that now hold faculty positions in the field of plant nematology. In addition to his active scholarly service on campus he has also been active on editorial boards and society committees, most notably he served as the Scientific Program Chair for Nematology and as the NCSU Project Leader in CSREES (USDA) Southern Regional Projects.
Davis has a reputation of excellence that is recognized nationally and internationally. He was an Editor of
Molecular Plant Pathology
Journal of Nematology
and was invited to serve as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee for the Binational Agricultural Research & Development Fund from 2016-2018. He has collaborated effectively with researchers in Israel, China, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium and the UK. Most recently he was funded to work on a collaborative project with researchers at Volcani Institute in Israel to dissect the interactions between root-knot nematode effectors and lipid signaling involved in plant defense.
Davis has made many outstanding contributions as a nematologist and has had a major impact on the field. Davis’ pioneering work in nematology is reflected in numerous honors and awards. He was named a Fellow of the Society of Nematologists in 2012, elected as a NC State University William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor in 2008 and a recipient of the APS Syngenta Award in 2001 and Ruth Allen Award in 2006.
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