The society grants this honor to a current APS member in recognition of distinguished contributions to plant pathology or to The American Phytopathological Society. Fellow recognition is based on significant contributions in one or more of the following areas: original research, teaching, administration, professional and public service, and/or extension and outreach.
Iowa State University
Gwyn Beattie grew up in New Mexico and attended Carleton College in Minnesota where she earned a BA in 1985 in chemistry. She obtained a PhD in cellular and molecular biology in 1991 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she worked on rhizobium nodulation competitiveness under the direction of Jo Handelsman. She performed her post-doctoral work in microbial ecology with Steven Lindow at the University of California-Berkeley and began as an assistant professor at Iowa State University in 1995. Beattie currently serves as the Robert Earle Buchanan distinguished professor of bacteriology and interim chair for the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Iowa State University.
Beattie has earned worldwide recognition for path-breaking research on environmental signaling and ecology of phytopathogenic bacteria. A primary focus of her work has been exploring the genomics of microbial responses to environmental cues on the surface of, and inside, plant leaves. Using Pseudomonas syringae as a model organism, her team discovered multiple physiological mechanisms by which both host and pathogen regulate the availability of water, a key limiting factor for microbial growth. Her development of biosensors to gauge the water status of individual cells revealed that even bacteria within the plant interior experience low water availability, and that a major defensive response by plants to pathogens is to restrict water availability in the apoplast. Beattie's cutting-edge review on water relations, an invited commentary on “water wars," and other publications have impacted how we look at the water environment experienced by plant-associated bacteria.
Beattie's research success has largely derived from applying molecular and cellular perspectives to ecological questions. Her collaborative work examining differences in bacterial perception of leaf surface versus leaf interior sites led her to delve into the role of light and photosensory proteins in the ecology of plant bacteria. Working with P. syringae mutants, her research team discovered cross-talk between signaling pathways for different wavelengths of light—a novel and unexpected parallel between bacteria and plants in signaling mechanisms—and between bacterial responses to light and water limitation. Her team's transcriptome analyses demonstrated that light affects the expression of more than one-third of the genes in P. syringae, and that these bacteria are far more responsive to far-red light than other wavelengths. Her work has highlighted far-red light as a potentially widespread and important environmental signal for plant-colonizing microbes.
Beattie and her group have been the first to confer genetic tractability to the cucurbit bacterial wilt pathogen, Erwinia tracheiphila, which is an important step toward identifying ecologically based management strategies for this localized, yet often devastating, wilt. Her team has characterized a variety of effectors for their contributions to pathogenesis and host specificity, and a plethora of lytic and lysogenic E. tracheiphila phage that may provide new insights into pathogen-phage ecology and opportunities for biocontrol.
Beattie has been a ceaseless advocate to more fully exploit the benefits of microbes in our agricultural practices. This requires a foundation of knowledge to enable breeding plants or deploying management practices that foster a protective microflora against biotic and abiotic stresses. Her work in this area focuses on the potential for plants to cultivate microbial communities that confer drought tolerance. Her team identified microbiome signatures associated with drought-stressed plants, signatures that are now recognized as features of drought-associated root microbiomes on many plant species. This discovery led to her current team's efforts to root-out the mechanisms underlying these signatures. The team's goal is to gain insight into how stressed plants direct and modify microbial communities.
Beattie's research on plant-microbiome-environment interactions dovetails with her interest in phytobiome science, that is, how complex interactions among plants, their associated organisms (insects, other plants, microbes), and all aspects of the physical environment influence plant and ecosystem health and productivity. As the lead of the team that authored Phytobiomes: A Roadmap for Research and Translation, she was intimately engaged in formally defining “phytobiomes," a process that took two years. She serves on the Board of Directors of the International Alliance for Phytobiomes Research and has co-organized one national and two international conferences on phytobiome science. Beattie is recognized as an influential scientist-advocate for phytobiome studies, substantially raising the profile of this new research sphere as well as the prominence of APS in influencing public policy toward research funding in this area.
Her commitment to teaching and training is reflected in awards for outstanding achievements in teaching and faculty excellence from Iowa State University. She is a revered classroom teacher. Her course in bacterial-plant interactions is a flagship of undergraduate and graduate-student education in her department and college. She has taught undergraduate microbiology to more than 1,100 students and is dedicated to getting her students to see the world from the perspective of a bacterial cell. Her course in microbial ecology focuses on the power of microbial ecology tools in individual cell ecology and microbial community ecology. Her courses are distinguished by increasing enrollment and enthusiastic student reviews. Beattie serves her institution by teaching a campus-wide research ethics discussion course to faculty, staff, and postdoctoral researchers. She is a treasured mentor, generally keeping a small lab group but having trained many PhD and MS students, postdocs, visiting scholars, and almost 50 undergraduate research mentees. Their collective work contributed to more than 60 publications.
Beattie has been an active member of APS and of the scientific community. She served two terms as the chair of the APS Public Policy Board, during which she advocated for sound science policy and support for biological and agricultural research. She also served two terms as a senior editor for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, has been a panel manager or panelist on USDA and NSF grant panels, and was a co-organizer of numerous symposia and sessions on topics ranging from phyllosphere microbiology to agricultural microbiomes. While Beattie has earned a reputation as an exceptionally creative and productive researcher, she is also a visionary—not only for her own science, but also for APS—in the emerging realm of phytobiome science. Beattie is an influential and respected member of APS and is most deserving of APS Fellow recognition.
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