Eric L. Davis
Eric L. Davis was born in Long Branch, NJ, in 1958. He received his B.S. degree in plant science from the University of Rhode Island in 1980 and his Ph.D. degree in nematology/entomology from the University of Florida in 1988. After postdoctoral research positions in the USDA in Orlando and at the University of Georgia, he joined the plant pathology faculty at North Carolina State University in 1993.
His primary research program focuses on the mechanisms of pathogenicity utilized by two groups of unique, plant-parasitic nematodes. He has made pioneering contributions in the understanding of the host-parasite relationships between cyst (Heterodera glycines and Globodera spp.) and root-knot (Meloidogyne spp.) nematodes and the major crop plants that they attack. The focus of his research at North Carolina State University has been on esophageal gland-cell proteins and their involvement in plant pathogenesis. Dr. Davis generated a panel of monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies that bind to esophageal gland-cell proteins and used these to isolate and characterize the biologically important proteins from H. glycines. These findings interfaced with related collaborative research on the potato cyst nematode (G. rostochiensis) and evolved into projects to clone parasitism genes expressed in the secretory gland cells of cyst nematodes. He and his associates have succeeded in cloning, sequencing, and identifying cDNAs encoding cellulases (â-1,4-endoglucanases) from H. glycines. This was the first isolation of this important hydrolytic enzyme gene from an animal, and this significant discovery was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 1998. Related findings revealed that the cellulases are released into the plant roots during intracellular migration by the nematode. Furthermore, recent research in his laboratory has resulted in the cloning and identification of similar cellulase genes in G. tabacum and in a number of other plant-parasitic nematode species. The cyst nematode cellulase gene has proven to be an excellent model for investigation of the role of nematode-stylet secretion during different stages of plant pathogenesis by these pathogens. For example, the infective stage of H. glycines, but not the sedentary adult female, secretes these enzymes. Interestingly, these cellulases have highest similarity with bacterial cellulases. The cyst nematode cellulases present the first strong evidence that some genes for parasitism by nematodes may have been acquired via ancient horizontal gene transfer from prokaryote to eukaryote.
Dr. Davis is also interested in host plant resistance. He has made significant progress in characterizing the genetic variability and virulence among populations of cysts, reniform, and root-knot nematodes from different geographic regions. He and his associates have demonstrated the presence of promising resistance to nematodes in a range of soybean breeding lines and cultivars as well as in sweet potato.
Recognition of the quality and importance of Dr. Davis and his research is reflected in a number of honors and awards. In addition to receiving the Certificate of Merit Award from the USDA in 1989, he was selected by the plant scientists at the Max Plank Institute as the North Carolina participant in a Scientist Exchange Program.
Dr. Davis contributes much through an active commitment to professional service. He has been an active member of a number of professional societies and a reviewer for numerous research journals. In addition to service on editorial boards and society committees, he has published key, invited annual reviews and book chapters. His ability to collaborate effectively with other scientists on a national and international basis serves to enrich his own research program as well as involve researchers in a number of countries. He is a principal contributor to a research project on nematode secretions involving collaboration with scientists from the Wageningen Agricultural University, the Netherlands, the Institut National de la Recherché Agronomique, Antibes, France, Iowa State University, and the University of Georgia. He also recently initiated a collaborative project with researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on bioengineering plant resistance to nematodes. A result of this collaboration was the finding that the promoter of a cellulase gene of Arabidopsis thaliana is specifically upregulated in root-knot nematode feeding cells in a heterologous tobacco host. With his collaborators from Iowa and Georgia, Dr. Davis has most recently embarked on a functional genomics effort designed to identify multiple secretory genes expressed in the secretory gland cells of the soybean cyst nematode during plant parasitism. An ultimate goal of Dr. Davis’s research is to identify molecular targets crucial for parasitism by nematodes and to disrupt their activity to provide novel resistance to nematodes in crops.