James L. Starr
James L. Starr was born in Dayton, Ohio. He received a B.S. degree in plant pathology from Ohio State University in 1971 and completed an M.S. degree the following year. His research studies in plant nematology began at Cornell University with William F. Mai. After receiving a Ph.D. in 1976, Starr joined the International Meloidogyne Project at North Carolina State University as a post-doctoral associate with Joseph N. Sasser. This included an 8-month appointment as a visiting nematologist at ICRISAT in India where he developed an international perspective on plant disease management. He later worked at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Nematode Advisory Laboratory. In 1981, Starr was appointed associate professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Texas A&M University where he now holds the rank of professor.
Starr is internationally recognized for his leadership in plant nematology. Studies of the ecology and epidemiology of economically important nematodes have transformed management strategies for peanut and cotton crops in Texas, and promise to transform the worldwide peanut and cotton industries. Specifically, he documented the frequency distributions of Meloidogyne species and developed models of winter survival by comparing the relative role of eggs and second-stage juveniles. By investigating the relationship between nematode number and yield loss, he determined damage functions for M. incognita and M. arenaria on cotton and peanut, respectively. He also determined the complex effects of interactions among nematode infection, fungal disease complexes, and host–plant resistance on these damage functions. Recently, Starr and a long-time collaborator and peanut geneticist, Charles Simpson, introgressed resistance to M. arenaria and M. javanica from wild Arachis species into cultivated peanut. Their release of Coan represents the first nematode-resistant peanut cultivar. Starr was the first to use a marker-assisted selection system for peanuts, and is using this technology to incorporate nematode resistance into lines with Tomato spotted wilt virus and Sclerotinia blight resistance. He also developed the first genetic map of peanut in collaboration with scientists at Texas A&M and the University of Georgia. The genetic map, breeding strategies, and resistance markers are also being used by Starr to produce disease resistance peanuts with a high ratio of oleic to linoleic acid, which is nutritionally beneficial to human health and increases the shelf-life of peanuts.
Starr also has extensive collaborations to develop germ plasm lines with resistance to cotton root-knot nematode, and is currently working to introgress resistance to the reniform nematode from Gossypium barbadense into cultivated cotton that has extant resistant to M. incognita.
His research focus is on the biology, epidemiology, and management of root-knot nematodes, especially on cotton and peanut, with a goal of furthering our understanding of the cell biology of the root-knot/host interactions. Starr has characterized a complex of proteins in esophageal gland secretions (nematode spit) of Meloidogyne species and quantified the multinucleate nature of nematode-induced giant cells in host plants. These polyploid nurse cells increase in gene copy number several hundred-fold. Starr showed that a reduction of nuclei of greater than 70% in giant cells affected a reduction in development of the nematode parasite, suggesting the potential for genetic engineering as an additional form of an IPM-based control strategy. To characterize the relationship between gene copy number in giant cells and nematode development, Starr pioneered the use of laser-capture microdissection coupled with real-time PCR to study gene expression in the giant cells. Starr discovered that tissue sample volume is a more appropriate reference for gene expression than comparison to house-keeping genes, whose expression is likely to be greatly altered in giant cells.
Starr’s basic research has drawn the attention of plant pathologists, nematologists, and plant breeders, revealing his unique strength in bringing modern laboratory practices to practical applications for crop improvement. Another measure of his success is funding by USDA-NRI, USDA-IPM, and US-AID as well as industry and commodity grants. Starr has authored more than 100 publications, including 70 peer-reviewed journal articles. He recently co-edited two books entitled, “Plant Resistance to Parasitic Nematodes” and “A Colour Handbook of Nematode Diseases” for the nematology community.
Starr has a prolific record of training and mentoring more than 20 graduate students who have developed successful careers in industry, universities, and government agencies. Starr is committed to graduate student success and scholarship, including written articles and seminars on ethics and professionalism in science. At Texas A&M, he has played a defining role in teaching several key graduate courses on the application of the science of plant pathology in addressing plant disease management. Currently, he teaches or co-teaches Advanced Plant Pathology, Diseases of Field Crops, Host-Plant Resistance, and a new online course entitled Plant Disease Management. Starr is an effective and popular instructor who emphasizes principles important to plant pathology and has the unusual ability to teach and support a research program encompassing his interests from molecular plant–microbe interactions to applied plant pathology.
As expected of a scientist with an outstanding record of contributions to plant pathology, Starr has had extensive involvement in The American Phytopathological Society (APS) and the Society of Nematologists (SON). He served as president of SON from 1996 to 1997. He has worked to advance the science of nematology by serving on several editorial boards, including senior editor for APS PRESS, a founding senior editor of the APS online journal Plant Health Progress, and the current editor-inchief of the Journal of Nematology. As vice-chair of the Nathan A. Cobb Foundation, Starr was instrumental in completing a fundraising goal of $100,000 for the SON student travel awards. He has served on numerous grant panels as an authority on plant nematology and integrated pest management.
Starr is a respected and distinguished plant nematologist and, accordingly, he was elected as fellow of the Society of Nematologists in 2003. He also was honored for his contributions to the peanut industry where he received the American Peanut Research and Education Society “Bailey Award” on two occasions for outstanding research, and was a recipient of the American Peanut Council’s Research and Education Award in 2001.
Starr is recognized for his scientific contributions and leadership as a plant pathologist. He has a distinguished record of professional service, which speaks to his leadership role in promoting the science of plant nematology. His studies of the nature and genetics of crop resistance to nematode diseases are recognized as an important model for other plant pathologists studying soilborne pathogens of field crops.