Brian J. Staskawicz was born in Boston, MA, on April 30, 1952. He received his B.A. degree in biology from Bates College in Lewiston, ME, in 1974, his M.F.S. degree in forest pathology from Yale University in 1976, and his Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from the University of California-Berkeley in 1980. He joined the International Plant Research Institute in 1980 and was appointed an assistant professor at the University of California-Berkeley in 1983 and promoted to associate professor in 1987 and to professor in 1992. Dr. Staskawicz was a Fulbright Scholar on sabbatical at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich England between 1991 and 1992. He has received many awards including the individual McKnight Foundation Award to study disease resistance, the APS Ruth Allen Award, and the USDA Honors Awards for environmental research in 1995. In 1998, Dr. Staskawicz was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Dr. Staskawicz has made numerous seminal contributions throughout his career to the understanding of the molecular basis of plant disease resistance. Some of his work is conceptually important since it suggests that avirulence genes may operate to control hostpathogen specificity at multiple levels. In addition, Dr. Staskawicz and colleagues were the first to demonstrate a molecular mechanism for the evasion of plant host defense when virulent mutants emerge from avirulent pathogen populations. Dr. Staskawicz also demonstrated that some avirulence genes may be important virulence determinants.
Dr. Staskawicz has been in the forefront of recent research in which disease resistance genes have been cloned and analyzed. He has used a number of genetic approaches, taking advantage of natural variants in disease resistance occurring among the host population for map-based cloning strategies and mutagenesis analyses to identify and dissect recognition and signal transduction pathways, and to identify and map susceptible mutants that have altered disease resistance phenotypes. Dr. Staskawicz has pioneered use of Arabidopsis as a tool for fundamental genetic studies of plant pathogen interactions. A recent accomplishment has been the development of very powerful genetic screening procedures suitable for dissecting the signaling pathways involved in disease resistance. Characterization of isolated mutants using this strategy is expected to yield new host factors required for both resistance and virulence responses.
Dr. Staskawicz’s past research achievements have been instrumental in leading us to a new era in plant pathology. His more recent breakthroughs promise to yield even greater insights into the molecular signaling that occurs during the response of plants to pathogens. Not only can we expect a clearer understanding of the molecular basis of gene-for-gene disease resistance, but in the near future, this work should contribute to practical efforts to improve disease control by engineering broader-spectrum disease resistance into agronomically important crops.