Dr. Anna E. Whitfield was born in Moultrie, Georgia, USA. She received her B.S.A. in Biological Science in 1996 at the University of Georgia-Athens, a M.S. in 1999 at the University of California-Davis in Plant Pathology, and in 2004 her Ph.D. in the same discipline at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 2004-2005 and at the Ohio State University from 2005-2006. From 2006 to 2017, she served on the faculty of the Department of Plant Pathology at Kansas State University (Manhattan) (KSU). She is currently a Professor with tenure in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University. Whitfield has been intensely active in the American Phytopathological Society (APS) where she has served on many committees, chaired the Vector-Pathogen Complexes Committee, organized numerous special sessions, workshops, discussions and served on the editorial boards of Phytopathology and Plant Disease. She contributes broadly to international scientific pursuit of understanding vector-virus interactions. She is now Senior editor for Phytobiomes and is on the editorial board of Journal of Virology. Her research advanced scientific understanding of the complex sequence of events leading to virus acquisition and transmission by arthropod vectors and to date resulted in 32 peer reviewed journal articles, 16 book chapters and reviews, 82 technical publications and 2 extension publications. She has given 48 invited presentations in venues all over the world.
Whitfield’s success can also be measured in her ability to acquire funding to support her ideas. She is PI or co-PI on nearly $16 million in extramural grant funding. Without a doubt she is considered a world leader in understanding how to best deploy genetic engineering for crop protection. Her research emphasis is the biology of plant-virus-vector interactions and the long-term goal of her research is to develop biologically-based strategies for controlling viruses and arthropod vectors. Her research revealed the events and molecular interactions leading to virus acquisition and transmission by arthropod vectors. Recent work led by Whitfield has focused on expression of viral glycoproteins in plants as a method to prevent virus transmission. Other work focuses on using RNAi as a control strategy and a functional genomics tool for arthropod vectors of plant pathogens. Whitfield has made significant research contributions that can be translated into new virus control strategies.
Whitfield’s analytical abilities, technical expertise and creative thought processes are impressive. The importance and innovative nature of her research are internationally recognized; as demonstrated by her invitations to speak at national and international meetings and universities. Whitfield’s presentations set her apart as an exceptional scientist and outstanding leader in virology and arthropod vector/virus interactions and speak volumes about the high level of respect she has generated in the scientific community.
During the past decade, Whitfield has undeniably become a leader in molecular virology with a focus on interactions occurring between plant viruses, plants and their arthropod vectors. She is an internationally renowned expert on thrips and determinants of tospovirus acquisition and is highly respected for her work with molecular interactions governing acquisition of Rhabdoviruses by Peregrinus maidis. Her laboratory leads the international scientific community in development of new knowledge regarding the interactomes between insects and the viruses they transmit. Whitfield’s research scholarship around virus-vector relationships is enabling development of innovative strategies that disrupt the cycle of disease in the field, e.g. blocking insect acquisition of plant viruses through manipulation of viral protein-insect receptor interactions and using RNAi to control insect vectors by knocking out essential genes. Whitfield has co-developed the first large-scale sequence resources for Frankliniella occidentalis, the insect vector of Tomato spotted wilt virus, an accomplishment that led to RNAi tools effective in reducing survival of Western flower thrips. She also developed transcriptome resources and functional genomics tools for Peregrinus maidis, the insect vector of Maize mosaic virus. These tools were essential in identifying host molecules necessary for rhabdovirus acquisition and transmission by vectors, tools that can now be manipulated to achieve control. Recently, Whitfield initiated research aimed at identifying germplasm with resistance to the Wheat curl mite, the arthropod vector of the most damaging viruses of wheat in Kansas. These major contributions advance our thinking about sustainable management strategies for arthropod vectors and the plant viruses they transmit. Arthropod transmitted plant viruses are among the most intractable problems to manage in crops; thus, Whitfield’s contributions are highly relevant in advancing the science of plant pathology.
Whitfield is an outstanding scholar who advanced science and plant pathology, not only with her research, but with her teaching and mentoring. Whitfield has trained and mentored more than 20 undergraduate researchers, 2 Ph.D. graduate students, a research assistant and 7 postdoctoral research associates. Her commitment to generating the next generation of scientists is evidenced by her mentorship of undergraduates from the KSU Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, the KSU Undergraduate Research and Mentoring Program, the KSU REU program, and the KSU College of Agriculture Diversity and Honors Programs. She reached beyond KSU as a contributor to the Thrips-Tospovirus Educational Network, a national educational group that trains graduate students and postdoctoral researchers as mentors who then guide undergraduates in independent research projects. She also advanced scientific literacy through outreach activities for K-12 and undergraduate students (Insect Zoo, GROW, EXCITE, Summer Soybean Science Institute, and KSU Department of Plant Pathology Undergraduate Outreach Day). As a member of the North Central Division of APS she helped organize and plan the symposium and the undergraduate outreach day. Her outstanding contributions to mentoring of graduate students led to her receiving the KSU College of Agriculture Excellence in Graduate Teaching Award 2014. Her contributions to increasing diversity in the sciences were recently recognized with the 2016 Diversity Award from Kansas State University Research and Extension, and the Sigma Xi Kansas State University 2016 Outstanding Scientist Award. In conclusion, Whitfield’s research scholarship and role as an educator have made tremendous contributions to science and to plant pathology.