Brett M. Tyler was born on August 29, 1955, in Vancouver, Canada. He received his B.Sc. (Hons.) degree from Monash University, Australia, in 1977 and his Ph.D. degree in medical biology from the University of Melbourne in 1981. He was a post-doctoral fellow from 1982 to 1984 at the University of Georgia and a research fellow at the Australian National University from 1984 to 1988. He was appointed as associate professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of California-Davis in 1988 and promoted to professor in 1994. In 2002, he accepted a position at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute. In 2012, he moved to Oregon State University, where he is director of the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing and Stewart Professor of Gene Research in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology.
Tyler’s research has made outstanding fundamental contributions to plant pathology. His research focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms by which oomycete pathogens overcome plant defense mechanisms is finding broad applications, including in animal aquatic systems, and his computational approaches have found applications in cancer research. Tyler’s first major contribution to the molecular genetics of oomycetes was his development of a DNA transformation system for Phytophthora infestans and P. sojae in collaboration with Howard Judelson and Richard Michelmore. In 1994, in collaboration with Helga Forster and Michael Coffey, he used molecular markers to demonstrate sexual reproduction in P. sojae. The recognition that outcrossing had resulted in many new races of P. sojae led his team to develop the first Mendelian genetic system for this pathogen, opening the way for genetic identification and map-based cloning of many genes.
Tyler has become well known for providing leadership for large collaborative research projects. In 1995, he began building genomics resources for P. sojae, and in 1997, he founded the Phytophthora Genome Initiative with Bruno Sobral to build community-based EST and genome sequencing programs for Phytophthora species. This initiative was highly successful in obtaining private and federal funding, resulting in large EST collections for P. sojae and P. infestans and oomycete genomics databases at the National Center for Genome Resources and the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute. In 2002, he and his collaborators sequenced the genomes of P. sojae and P. ramorum. Building on these first two genomes, Tyler was awarded funding for sequencing the genome of the Arabidopsis downy mildew pathogen in 2004, enabling the exciting fusion of oomycete genomics with Arabidopsis genetic resources. Other members of the initiative have leveraged the P. sojae and P. ramorum sequences to obtain funding for genome sequencing of P. infestans, P. capsici, and Pythium ultimum. He is currently the lead PI on a USDA AFRI grant “Integrated management of oomycete diseases of soybean and other crop plants”, which has 27 co-PIs from numerous institutions. This effort will complete the P. sojae genome sequence and integrate all of the oomycete genome sequences, thus providing the community with an invaluable resource for future research. Tyler currently also leads an international collaborative team, including the Beijing Genome Institute, in sequencing an additional 30 genomes of Phytophthora species with the goal of eventually sequencing all Phytophthora species. He has also led the multi-institutional PAMGO project to develop gene ontology terms for describing gene functions in a broad diversity of plant-associated microbes.
Tyler’s research into the biology of oomycetes has made major contributions to understanding the molecular basis of recognition between Phytophthora species and their hosts. His team characterized elicitin proteins secreted by many Phytophthora species and demonstrated their importance in regulating the interaction of Phytophthora with Nicotiana species. In collaboration with Paul Morris, his team characterized the recognition by P. sojae hyphae and swimming zoospores of isoflavone signals released by soybean roots. In 2004, his team described the cloning of the first avirulence gene from an oomycete, Avr1b, showing that it encoded a highly polymorphic protein and predicting that the protein should have the ability to enter plant cells. Searching the P. sojae and P. ramorum genomes with the Avr1b sequence, he discovered a very large family of effector proteins with a conserved N terminal motif called RXLR-dEER. The family is present in all sequenced oomycete genomes and includes 11 cloned avirulence genes. This motif was widely predicted to carry the effector protein into plant cells and Tyler has recently proven this experimentally. The identification of the RXLR family of effectors has created a frenzy of excitement, as oomycete biologists have rushed to understand the functions of these effectors. In addition, Tyler currently has active soybean and P. sojae functional genomics research projects focused on understanding the complex network of genetic interactions between the host and pathogen, with an emphasis on the “many genes-to-many genes” system that underlies durable resistance.
A hallmark of Tyler’s visionary leadership has been his determination that the oomycete molecular genetics community should have a strong spirit of collaboration, share tools rapidly, and actively foster the careers of younger scientists. Building on the Phytophthora Genome Initiative, he obtained a community-building Research Collaboration Network grant for the Phytophthora molecular genetics community from 2002 to 2007 and a follow-up grant for the oomycete genomics community from 2007 to 2012. Tyler has been active in APS and received the Noel T. Keen Award for Research in Molecular Plant Pathology in 2008. He has actively fostered the career of many new researchers; the majority of his research grants have been in partnership with junior colleagues. Several of his post-doctoral fellows have become major contributors to the field, including APS Ruth Allen Award winner Howard Judelson and Noel T. Keen Award winner Sophien Kamoun. The community, which began with fewer than five research groups in 1986, now encompasses more than 80 oomycete molecular genetics and genomics researchers worldwide.
The genomic tools and resources that Brett Tyler and his collaborators developed and the culture of cooperation that he has fostered have transformed the field of oomycete molecular genetics over the last 20 years to one that is vibrant and is contributing cutting-edge knowledge to the field of molecular plant-microbe interactions.
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