Jacqueline Fletcher, born in Wilmington, DE, grew up in Pennsylvania as the daughter of two enthusiastic gardeners who instilled in her a love of plants and soil. She received a B.S. in biology from Emory University, Atlanta, GA, in 1970. Her M.S. in botany (1972; University of Montana, Missoula) was directed by plant virologist Meyer Chessin, and her Ph.D. in plant pathology (1979; Texas A&M University) was directed by virologist Robert Halliwell. A post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois changed the course of her career when she and colleagues demonstrated that a serious “virus” disease in Illinois was caused by the wall-less prokaryote Spiroplasma citri. Dr. Fletcher joined the Department of Plant Pathology at Oklahoma State University in 1984, where she currently holds the title of Sarkeys Distinguished Professor.
At OSU, Dr. Fletcher established a strong research program on the molecular biology, genetics, and host–pathogen interactions of phytopathogenic spiroplasmas and phytoplasmas. A long-standing research collaboration with OSU vector entomologist Astri Wayadande and molecular biologist Ulrich Melcher led to synergistic and productive investigations. The team is recognized internationally for contributions to the field of plant mycoplasmology, particularly on molecular determinants mediating transmission by insect vectors. They, with their students and post-doctoral associates, were the first to select and study transmission-defective spiroplasma mutants, identifying several adherence-related genes and proteins, and to develop cultured insect vector cell lines as a model system for studying spiroplasma adhesion. They also examined the mechanisms of genetic variation in spiroplasmas. Current initiatives focus on natural pathogen diversity and niche adaptation.
During the last decade, Dr. Fletcher has been part of another research team investigating cucurbit yellow vine disease, an emerging and damaging disorder in midwest and east coast states. The yellow vine research team, including scientists from the USDA-ARS in Lane, OK, Texas A&M University, Stephenville, and OSU, developed molecular detection tools and showed the agent to be a phloem-inhabiting bacterium, which was identified as a unique strain of the ubiquitous microbe Serratia marcescens. The group’s work highlighted S. marcescens adaptability to diverse ecological niches, and they continue to explore the environmental signals and genetic regulatory cascades that account for it.
Dr. Fletcher has participated in several international research initiatives, including work with the International Soybean Program in Mexico and Costa Rica, on sugarcane whiteleaf disease in Thailand, and on several phytoplasma diseases in Italy.
Teaching and advising graduate students is an important responsibility and pleasure in Dr. Fletcher’s career. In addition to teaching a graduate class in phytobacteriology, she and fellow faculty member Robert Hunger developed and teach a graduate class in “Career Skills and Professionalism,” designed to help students understand the nonresearch roles of professionals in science. Dr. Fletcher has directed or co-directed the research projects of 9 M.S. students and 10 Ph.D. students, and has served on graduate committees of 23 additional students.
Dr. Fletcher has participated in professional activities at the local, national, and international levels. At OSU, she contributed to the development of a new plant science Ph.D. program, and served on various departmental and college committees. She was a member of both the Agriculture Faculty Council (serving as secretary) and the OSU Faculty Council (chairing the Academic Standards and Policies Committee), and was a 1998–99 ESCOP (Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy) leadership intern.
Dr. Fletcher has been very active in professional societies, particularly APS, in which she was a member of the Bacteriology, Women in Plant Pathology, and Biosecurity Standing committees. Ad hoc committees included: Young Professionals, APS Governance, Alliances Strategy, Market Brand Development, and Constitution and Bylaws. She served as senior editor for APS PRESS and as associate editor for Plant Disease, and twice co-moderated the annual APS Leadership Workshop. She is a member of APS Southern and Caribbean Divisions. Dr. Fletcher served on APS Council for 10 years, as secretary, as councilor-at-large, and most recently in the 4-year presidential sequence.
During her service in the APS presidential series, Dr. Fletcher has had a significant role in the society’s initiatives with respect to plant biosecurity. Working with APS Council, the Public Policy Board and APS’s Washington Liaison Eversole Associates, the Biosecurity Committee, the Emerging Diseases and Pathogens Committee, and other APS groups, she participated in a congressional briefing to provide information on plant pathogens and security and helped to develop APS’s current proposal for a government-based National Center for Plant Biosecurity. She coauthored APS proposals that resulted in funding from the USDA to host a workshop in Washington, D.C., “Crop Biosecurity: Are We Prepared?” and from the Department of Homeland Security for a second workshop, “Proposal for a National Center for Plant Biosecurity,” and helped to prepare the APS white papers that resulted from those events. With other APS leaders, she has met with federal agency administrators and scientists, congressional staff, leaders of other professional societies and commodity groups, and others in the center proposal development. Other national initiatives in which Dr. Fletcher participated include the Public Policy Board’s proposal on Component Analysis for Understanding the Sustainable Environment (CAUSE) and, APS’s conversations with regulatory administrators on microbe permitting issues. She represented APS at a National Academy of Sciences Council on Scientific Openness and National Security and worked with APS journal editors to frame a publication policy on this issue. She is involved in a national initiative to explore capabilities in microbial forensics as related to plant pathogens, chairs a new ad hoc APS Interest Group on Plant Pathogen Forensics, and was appointed to the FBI’s Scientific Working Group on Microbial Genetics and Forensics. Currently, she serves on the APS Public Policy Board and the Office of International Programs.
At the international level, Dr. Fletcher is a member of the International Organization for Mycoplasmology (IOM), the only professional society with a focus on mycoplasmas. She is active in the IOM Spiroplasma and Phytoplasma Working Groups, served on the Meeting Planning Committee, and was recently elected to a 4-year term as IOM treasurer. She also is a cooperator and co-PI on crop biosecurity initiatives in the European Union.