This award recognizes a scientist within seven years of the PhD who has made an outstanding, innovative contribution directed towards the control of plant disease.
Jonathan M. Jacobs was born in Chicago, IL, and grew up on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. As an undergraduate student, Jacobs was passionate about both humanities and biology and received a B.S. degree as a triple major in Spanish, bacteriology, and genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison). He continued on to graduate school at UW-Madison, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in plant pathology (minor in microbiology) focusing on the biology and diagnostics of the phytopathogenic bacterium Ralstonia solanacearum with Prof. Caitilyn Allen. He received the inaugural APS Raymond Tarleton Award to develop novel diagnostics for R. solanacearum race 3 biovar 2, a U.S. select agent. Afterward, he expanded his training in pathogens important to food security and carried out postdoctoral research focusing on the select agent pathogen Xanthomonas oryzae and rice. He was an NSF postdoctoral fellow at the Institut de Recheche pour le Développement in France and a USDA NIFA postdoctoral fellow at Colorado State University (CSU). He was also a Fulbright scholar in Belgium at l'Université Catholique de Louvain, where he gained skills in microscopy for a better understanding of the infection cycle of bacterial plant pathogens.
Jacobs was hired as an assistant professor of emerging infectious disease ecology in the Department of Plant Pathology at The Ohio State University (OSU) in 2018. In this role he is studying high-impact plant-pathogenic bacteria, with the aim of using the knowledge gained to control emerging and long-standing diseases, some of which are caused by select agents. He is making original contributions in several areas, placing a special emphasis on plant-pathology communication through visualization approaches, such as video and time-lapse imaging (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JmM0JkRy7k). In his first two years as faculty, his team has acquired over $1.2 million from national and local funding sources (NIFA SCRI, NSF-NIFAPBI, Ohio Department of Agriculture). He has published 19 peer-reviewed articles, including 15 based on research after his Ph.D. studies, with 8 being published in his first year at OSU. He is an active APS member, with a dedication to the society through research and service. He is the chair for the APS Bacteriology Committee.
A primary focus of Jacobs' program since receiving his Ph.D. degree has been genomics-enabled diagnostics. His team has created pipelines for swift identification of plant-pathogenic bacteria, especially those that threaten U.S. biosecurity. His lab pioneered sequencing approaches for diagnostics regarding long-standing endemic and biosecurity threats, including Xanthomonas, Xylella, and Ralstonia, and identified using genomics the pathogen from the 2020 introductions of U.S. select agent R. solanacearum race 3 biovar 2. He sequenced the first genome of a plant pathogen of hemp, a reemerging crop in the United States. He and colleagues recently identified and reported Xanthomonas hortorum on peony and lavender in Ohio using next-generation sequencing approaches. Jacobs (PI) and colleagues (S. Miller, M. Lewis-Ivey, J. Pierzynski) were awarded funding to expand these sequencing approaches to other plant pathogens, including oomycetes and fungi.
In just a few short years since attaining his Ph.D. degree, Jacobs has become a leader in the study of vascular plant pathogenesis and tissue-specific colonization by bacteria. He was awarded funding to study Xanthomonas tissue-specific behavior through NSF-NIFA PBI (co-PIs J. Leach, J. Lang at CSU) JACOBS 3 and NIFA SCRI (lead PD J. Dung). His research was recently featured in Science Advances, a new premium general-science journal with an impact factor of 13.0. This study provided foundational, previously unidentified evidence for the basis of vascular plant pathogenesis by Xanthomonas bacteria. Specifically, his team identified a cellulase conserved in Xanthomonas, Xylella, and Ralstonia species that is critical for xylem pathogenesis. He is using this cellulase to screen for resistance and has recently partnered with MillerCoors to field-test a diagnostic tool based on cellulase for identification of Xanthomonas on barley. He is also funded by the Ohio Department of Agriculture to understand microbial and tissue-specific colonization of the phytobiome.
Jacobs is a global leader in R. solanacearum biology and diagnostics. Partnering with colleagues at the Royal University of Agriculture, his team officially identified bacterial wilt on tomato in Cambodia. They discovered new host species for R. solanacearum, including long bean and bitter melon. With his team, he is characterizing the population diversity of R. solanacearum in Southeast Asia and using novel control strategies, such as anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD), to limit bacterial wilt incidence for small producers in the tropics. Bacterial wilt is arguably the most important bacterial pathogen globally due to its wide host range and limited controls available to farmers, and this work funded by US-AID Feed the Future IPM Innovation Lab provides affordable options to smallholder farmers. He works closely with partners at Universidad de San Carlos (Guatemala), Royal University of Agriculture (Cambodia), and iDE-Cambodia to implement ASD as a management strategy for bacterial wilt control. This approach is already showing promise to provide producers a sustainable practice to reduce bacterial wilt incidence.
Jacobs is committed to teaching and developing curriculum to engage the next generation of agricultural scientists and plant pathologists. He has created workshops for students at multiple levels based on tools from his laboratory that allow for visualization of pathogen infection cycles with microscopy. He developed a new course at OSU, Basics in Hypothesis-Driven Research, which teaches students basics of plant-microbe interactions research and presentation. This active-learning class provides students a hands-on experience in research with professional training and ultimately a publishable research project. He was granted a Drake Institute teaching award with Monica Lewandowski at OSU to develop a curriculum broadly disseminated to other plant pathology, microbiology, and plant-biology programs that promotes hypothesis-driven learning.
Jacobs' program has grown exponentially since receiving his Ph.D. degree and especially since starting at OSU. As a gay, multiracial scientist, he is committed to serving students from underrepresented groups and continues engagement through mentorship, serving as an advisor for an OSU student organization called Cultivating Change. He has advised four undergraduate students, four graduate students, three postdocs, and lab technical staff from diverse backgrounds. He plans to continue his service efforts through APS by mentoring scientists on basic and applied research to improve bacterial plant disease control.