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2022 Sygenta Award​

This award is given by Syngenta Crop Protection to an APS member for an outstanding recent contribution to teaching, research, or extension in plant pathology.

Erica M. Goss was born and raised in Portland, OR. She traveled to Wesleyan University in Connecticut for college, where her first research experience in plant pathology was as a summer intern at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. She received her B.A. degree in biology in 1997 and spent two years exploring research in plant ecology. In 2005, she obtained her Ph.D. degree in ecology and evolution from the University of Chicago, where her interest in pathogen population genetics was sparked. She joined Nik Grünwald’s lab at the USDA ARS in Corvallis, OR, as a postdoc to apply her training in population genetics and molecular evolution to the sudden oak death pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum. She was recruited to the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida for a joint position with the Plant Pathology Department, where she joined as an assistant professor in 2011. She is currently an associate professor in the Plant Pathology Department and the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida.

Goss is known nationally and internationally as an expert in plant pathogen evolution. By bringing her background in ecology and evolution to the field of plant pathology, Goss has shown repeatedly how reconstructing the evolutionary history of pathogens helps to explain the drivers of genetic variation in present day populations. She excels in using DNA sequence data to advance understanding of the mechanisms of plant pathogen emergence and re-emergence. She has used this approach to gain insight into Phytophthora spp. and the Xanthomonas spp. that cause bacterial spot of tomato and pepper, among others.

Phytophthora infestans has been intensively studied since it swept through Europe and led to the Irish potato famine in the 1840s, yet its evolutionary history continues to be disputed. Goss’ work was essential to the current understanding that central Mexico has been the source of contemporary global migrations of P. infestans (Goss et al., 2014 ,PNAS) and that Mexico continues to have a large and structurally complex center of diversity, with a putatively direct impact on the United States through introductions of new genotypes from distinct source populations (Wang et al., 2017, Molecular Ecology). To generalize understanding of Phytoph​thora evolution, it is important to study patterns of genetic variation in other globally distributed Phytophthora pathogens. Goss and her student showed that the P. nicotianae (P. parasitica) population causing pineapple heart rot in Ecuador has a clonal population across two provinces (Ratti et al., 2018, Plant Pathology). The SSR genotype was distinct from those previously reported for this broad host range pathogen, suggesting that additional sampling of hosts and geographic regions will uncover new genetic diversity.

Goss’ work on bacterial spot of tomato caused by Xanthomonas perforans, in collaboration with Jeff Jones and Gary Vallad, has led to discovery of dramatic, genome-wide changes in populations in Florida and elsewhere. These genomic changes are associated with the emergence of new races and aggressive, copper-resistant strains that are difficult to control in commercial tomato production in Florida, the Eastern United States, and around the world. The first evidence of a role for homologous recombination in X. perforans evolution came from multilocus sequence data (Timilsina et al., 2015, AEM), and her program quickly expanded to using whole genome sequences (Timilsina et al., 2016, Phytopathology). Core genome analysis showed that much of the variation in the core genome of Florida strains could be attributed to recombination with other lineages within the X. euvesicatoria complex (Timilsina et al., 2019, Frontiers Microbiology). A more dramatic example was found in strains causing bacterial spot in Nigeria that are highly diverged from X. perforans in the core genome but have acquired the type III secretion system and effectors from X. perforans (Jibrin et al., 2018, AEM). Most recently, Goss and collaborators found that genetic variation in X. perforans in Florida tomato fields is structured by the production system (Klein-Gordon et al., 2021, ISME Journal). Specifically, farms that sourced tomato transplants from only one facility showed less genetic variation in the pathogen than farms that sourced from multiple transplant growers, a strong indication that the pathogen is moving on transplants into production fields.

Goss has returned to her background in population and community ecology in recent work on invasive plants as potential sources for emerging pathogens of crops (Goss et al., 2020, Annual Review of Phytopathology). Collaborative work cataloging pathogens on a destructive invasive grass of Eastern forests, Microstegium vimineum, led to the discovery that Bipolaris gigantea (previously Drechslera gigantea) is a major pathogen of the grass (Lane et al., 2020, Mycologia). This little-studied pathogen recently emerged as a damaging pathogen of CBD varieties of industrial hemp.

Beyond the projects she has led, Goss is a valued collaborator, as is shown by her record of 67 peer-reviewed publications since her employment at the University of Florida. She trains graduate students in evolutionary plant pathology within and beyond her program: she has graduated 6 Ph.D. students, with 3 in progress, and has served on 27 graduate committees. Goss is also committed to training and advocating for evolutionary plant pathology through the APS Evolutionary Genetics and Genomics Committee. She was committee chair in 2010 and restarted workshops sponsored by the committee, teaching workshops in 2011 and 2012. She continues to advocate for workshops for APS members, leading to the UF Plant Pathology Department teaching popular virtual workshops on basic bioinformatics and command-line tools in 2020 and 2021. With committee members, she co-organized special sessions on pathogen hybridization (2012) and evolution (2021), most recently with graduate students from other universities. She has also served APS as an associate and focus issue editor for Phytopathology, and as senior editor for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions.

Goss has been rewarded for her research by the University of Florida and APS. She was a Schroth Faces of the Future awardee in 2013 and an APS Leadership Fellow in 2014. The University of Florida awarded her a Term Professorship for 2017-2020, and the Excellence Award for Assistant Professors, a university-wide award, in 2018.