Lynda M. Ciuffetti was born in Fitchburg, MA. She obtained a B.S. degree in botany/biology from the University of Massachusetts (1973), an M.S. degree in plant physiology/fungal physiology from Michigan Technological University (1976), and a Ph.D. degree in plant pathology/plant physiology from Purdue University (1983). Upon graduation, she was a post-doctoral research associate at Brandeis University and Cornell University. In 1990, she joined the faculty of the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State University (OSU), first as a grant-supported research assistant professor, then as a tenure-track assistant professor (1995), associate professor (1999), and professor (2004). In 2008, she began her current position as chair/head of the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at OSU.
Ciuffetti is an internationally known authority in the field of molecular host-pathogen interactions. Her research focuses on Pyrenophora tritici-repentis, which causes tan spot, a serious disease of wheat worldwide. Her group did pioneering work in this system by initially focusing on Ptr ToxA, the first proteinaceous host-specific toxin (HST) discovered in plant-pathogenic fungi, identifying and characterizing the gene encoding ToxA, and demonstrating that ToxA is necessary and sufficient to induce necrotic symptoms on ToxA-susceptible wheat cultivars. With collaborators, Ciuffetti’s group determined the crystal structure of ToxA, the first protein HST with a known physical structure, and identified the motif required for its transport into plant mesophyll cells. ToxA was the first protein known to cross the plant cell membrane unassisted by the pathogen and without disrupting cell integrity, and its discovery was ground breaking. Ongoing studies into this novel transport mechanism promise to contribute to knowledge of host-pathogen interactions in general as well as new approaches for the introduction of useful genes and proteins into plant cells.
Ciuffetti’s group contributed to the wheat-Pyrenophora system as a model for the study of inverse gene-for-gene interactions, which are applicable to many necrotrophic plant–pathogen interactions where HSTs act as major virulence factors. Her group established the importance of genotype, in addition to phenotype, when characterizing the complex race structure of P. tritici-repentis and production of HSTs, and identified the mechanism of action of ToxA. They demonstrated that, once inside the plant cell, ToxA localizes to the chloroplast where it interacts with the plant protein ToxABP1, involved in photosystem (PS) II biogenesis/degradation, and that ToxA treatment induces changes in PS I and II. A recent study based on viral-induced silencing of ToxABP1 indicates that the ToxA-ToxABP1 interaction is a critical, although not exclusive, component of the ToxA-induced cell death cascade. These results are particularly compelling because they indicate that toxin sensitivity evokes cellular processes related to resistance and support the hypothesis that pathogen resistance and susceptibility have converging or overlapping signaling pathways and responses in plants.
Ciuffetti’s research contributions include her co-leadership of a project resulting in the genomic sequence of P. tritici-repentis. The sequence, which has been publicly available since 2008, represents an important milestone in fungal genomics and will certainly lead to additional scientific breakthroughs. Ciuffetti’s group also developed and distributed valuable research tools, including promoters that are useful for heterologous gene expression in filamentous fungi and constructs facilitating use of the green fluorescent protein as a marker system in fungal plant pathogens. Ciuffetti has been an active contributor to community projects to standardize the nomenclature of HSTs and clarify the phylogeny of filamentous fungi. These examples demonstrate that Ciuffetti’s impact and influence extend beyond her laboratory and immediate areas of research.
Ciuffetti has taught and mentored undergraduates, graduate students, faculty research assistants, and post-doctoral fellows throughout her career and has engaged and supervised student research experiences at all levels. For almost 20 years, she taught a large undergraduate course in biology or botany each year, and she became known as one of the most engaging and inspiring teachers on campus. She consistently receives excellent student evaluations year after year, and many of the 150–600 students enrolled in her courses each year have spoken of the important influence she has had on their careers. Ciuffetti has also been actively engaged in graduate student training, contributing lectures and laboratory instruction to a number of graduate courses, serving as a member of 30 graduate committees, and establishing and directing a mentoring program for graduate teaching assistants for the past 20 years. She has served as major professor for five graduate students, mentored nine post-doctoral fellows, and supervised research experiences for 29 undergraduates. Her passion for science, her infectious enthusiasm for research, and the excellence of her research group are legendary at OSU, and students and post-docs have thrived under her guidance.
Ciuffetti’s scientific leadership and record of service to her university and the greater scientific community are truly extraordinary. Currently, she serves on the Oregon State Board of Higher Education, the statutory governing board of the seven-university system. Within OSU, she served as president of the Faculty Senate, chair of the Graduate Council, member of the President’s Cabinet, and on more than 70 university, college, or departmental committees. Ciuffetti served as a chair or member of eleven national panels evaluating proposals submitted to federal funding agencies. She has been a member of APS throughout her career, serving as a section chair on the Scientific Program Board, associate editor of Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, and currently as a member of the Leadership Institute Committee.
Ciuffetti’s exceptional accomplishments in research, teaching, leadership, and service have been widely recognized by her colleagues and the greater scientific community. Early in her career, she was awarded the highly competitive NSF CAREER Award, granted to recently hired faculty who have proven themselves exemplary in integrating research and education within their universities. Ciuffetti is one of the few plant pathologists ever to receive this prestigious award. She frequently receives invitations to speak about her work, and has an excellent publication record. She has been very successful in securing research funding from federal agencies, with grants totaling approximately $4.2 million over her career. She has received many university awards recognizing her accomplishments, most notably the prestigious OSU Alumni Distinguished Professor Award in 2010.