Rick Nelson was born in St. Louis, MO, and grew up in the area. He attended Washington University, obtaining his A.B. degree in biology and psychology in 1978. Nelson became interested in plant research at Washington University through course work and internships at Monsanto. He obtained his M.S. degree in agronomy in 1982 and his Ph.D. degree in biology in 1985 from the University of Illinois under the tutelage of James Harper. His post-doctoral training commenced in the laboratory of Roger Beachy at Washington University, where he was instrumental in showing for the first time that plants could be made resistant to virus challenge through genetic engineering. He became an assistant scientist at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in 1988. Currently, Nelson is a professor at the Noble Foundation and adjunct professor at Oklahoma State University in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. He has authored or coauthored more than 80 scientific papers. Nelson’s research is centered toward understanding virus movement and accumulation throughout the host. He was an early pioneer in recognizing that the host was composed of a diverse array of cell types, each potentially with the unique ability to regulate virus cell-to-cell or vascular movement. He utilized an array of viruses, both native and mutant, to study the determinants in the virus genome for spread and accumulation within the host and the cell boundaries within plants that regulate virus accumulation. His laboratory was the first to study the vascular invasion capacity of a virus, determining that Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) can enter any vein class in an inoculated leaf to initiate systemic spread. In addition, his laboratory was one of the early pioneers to survey minor vein invasion by different virus genera within hosts displaying different vascular cell morphologies. Nelson’s laboratory also studied the intracellular activities of TMV. They determined that the TMV replication complex is a dynamic entity that changes its intracellular location and composition as infection progresses. Recently, they were the first to show that both the 126-kDa protein encoded by TMV and the TMV replication complex colocalize with and traffic along microfilaments, suggesting a new model for TMV RNA transport to plasmodesmata. Through collaboration with James Schoelz’s laboratory at the University of Missouri, the P6 protein of Cauliflower mosaic virus, a protein with similarities to the TMV 126-kDa protein, also was found to associate with and traffic along microfilaments. In other work, the Nelson laboratory determined that the ability of a virus expressing a mutant 126-kDa protein with attenuated RNA silencing suppressor activity to systemically infect Nicotiana benthamiana correlates with the absence of an active host RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. This was the first identification in a plant of a natural alteration in a gene associated with RNA silencing and explains the susceptibility of N. benthamiana, a favorite lab “rat” for plant virologists, to tobamovirus hyper-accumulation. Nelson’s laboratory has maintained an interest in viruses that infect monocotyledonous plants. They studied Brome mosaic virus (BMV) infections in barley and determined that 1) virus vascular-centric accumulation is temperature dependent and 2) virus accumulation occurs in guttation fluid and its presence in this fluid is associated with localized cell death within the vascular cells. More recently, the Nelson laboratory with others at the Noble Foundation identified and cloned a strain of BMV that infects rice. The virus was modified to serve as a vector to study host gene function through virus-induced gene silencing for the first time in rice. Nelson has an extensive record as a research collaborator. He has collaborated with Biao Ding, Ohio State University, to study macromolecule intercellular trafficking and the effect of viroids on host gene expression and RNA silencing; Jeanmarie Verchot-Lubicz, Oklahoma State University, to study potexvirus accumulation and movement; C. Michael Deom, University of Georgia, to study virus movement and its determinants; Yi Li, Peking University, to identify a movement protein encoded by Rice dwarf virus; Andy Maule, John Innes Centre, to identify plasmodesmal targeting signals in the Cucumber mosaic virus movement protein; and his former post-doctoral, Ning-Hui Cheng, and Kendal Hirschi, USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center, to study the location of proteins involved in calcium flux or oxidative stress response within plants.
Nelson has a long record of professional service both within and outside of APS. He served as vice chair and chair of the APS Virology Committee in 1996–1997. He served as an associate editor for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions from 1997 to 1999 and for Phytopathology from 1998 to 1999 and as a senior editor for Phytopathology from 2000 to 2002. Nelson has organized or coorganized multiple APS special sessions. For 15 years, he has been instrumental in securing financial support for APS special sessions sponsored by the Virology Committee. From 1999 to 2003, Nelson served as the APS representative on the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) Scientific Advisory Council. Outside of APS, he served as an associate editor for Molecular Plant Pathology from 2000 to 2005 and currently is on the Editorial Board for Virology (2005–present). He coorganized or was a member of the organizing committee for multiple international conferences. With Marilyn Roossinck, he coinitiated and, in alternate years, organizes the Noble Foundation Virology Retreat, bringing together approximately 40 researchers from around the world for research presentations and discussion in a relaxed atmosphere (1992–present). Most recently, he helped coorganize a USDA- and Noble Foundation-sponsored DNA marker workshop for breeders and molecular biologists working to improve rice quality and disease resistance (2006). He fulfilled his adjunct professor duties giving guest lectures at Oklahoma State University and as a member of graduate student committees for master’s and Ph.D. candidates. In summary, Nelson is an internationally recognized scientist who has conducted pioneering studies on virus-host interactions. He collaborates successfully with scientists around the world while maintaining an active core research program at the Noble Foundation. In addition to authoring or coauthoring important original research, he has for many years given his time in professional service to APS and other organizations.