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2024 Syngenta Award: Kranthi Mandadi​

Kranthi Mandadi was born in India and received his B.S. degree in agricultural sciences from ANGRAU University in 2002. Subsequently, he moved to the United States, receiving an M.S. degree in plant and soil sciences (2005) from Texas A&M University-Kingsville and a Ph.D. degree in molecular and environmental plant sciences (2010) at Texas A&M University-College Station. As a postdoctoral researcher (2010–2014) in plant virology at Texas A&M University, Mandadi pioneered using Brachypodium as a genetic model system for elucidating plant-virus interactions in the Poaceae (grasses). In 2015, he was hired as an assistant professor in plant pathology and microbiology at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center in Weslaco and was promoted to associate professor in 2020. 

Mandadi has published more than 64 peer-reviewed manuscripts in high-impact scientific journals (e.g., Plant Cell, Plant Biotechnology, MPMI, Nature Communications). His science is widely cited, with ~2,600 citations (~1,500 in the last five years) and >60 popular press articles on his findings and projects. Mandadi is equally committed to the translation and commercialization of his discoveries through public-private partnerships with industry (e.g., Bayer, Southern Gardens Citrus, US Sugar) and producer/stakeholder groups (e.g., Texas Citrus Mutual, CRDF, TIPA). During his nine years as faculty at Texas A&M, he has received ~$42 million (~$9 million to Mandadi) in funding from various federal, state, private, and nonprofit organizations/foundations and agencies. 

Mandadi's breakthrough basic and translational research of fastidious (unculturable) plant pathogens is the focus of this Syngenta award. He has an exemplary record of innovative, high-risk/high-reward research and scholarly accomplishments. He has pioneered inventive contributions to fundamental knowledge, tools, and applied technologies related to studies of fastidious and vascular-limited pathogens. Fastidious pathogens are devastating many agricultural production systems worldwide. For example, citrus greening or Huanglongbing (HLB) disease associated with the psyllid-transmitted Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus is the most lethal disease of citrus today, threatening the more than $13 billion U.S. citrus industry. Related bacteria also cause diseases in potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots. Unfortunately, studies of fastidious pathogens are hindered due to the recalcitrance of the pathogens to standard laboratory culturing techniques and genetic manipulation. In the case of HLB, the hosts are hardy perennial trees, making experimentation with citrus laborious and time-consuming. Mandadi developed an innovative and patented technology called the “microbial hairy root system" to address these bottlenecks, enabling ex vivo coculturing of fastidious pathogens in host plant-derived hairy root matrices (Nature Communications, 2020). Notably, the microbial hairy roots can be used for high-throughput and faster (4–6 times) screening of various chemical, biological, and genetic therapies. Leveraging this innovative technology and multi-institutional, interdisciplinary collaborations, Mandadi identified multiple immune-related gene-, antimicrobial peptide-, CRISPR target-, and small molecule-based treatments that can effectively kill Candidatus Liberibacter spp. 

Building on these discoveries, Mandadi is spearheading several projects, including a $7 million NIFA multistate Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP), in which he is collaborating with a consortium of interdisciplinary scientists, economists, and Extension specialists at universities (Texas A&M University System, University of Florida, University of California, and Purdue), a federal agency (USDA-ARS), and private-sector/industries (US Sugar, Southern Gardens Citrus) to pursue advanced testing and commercialization of new HLB therapies that he has identified so far. This project was also designated a NIFA Center of Excellence by the USDA. Given the prohibitive deregulation costs of new genetic or chemical therapies (estimated >$200 million), such public-private partnerships and consortiums are essential for the ultimate translation of research discoveries into solutions on the ground. 

As a testament to his innovative research, in 2017, he was awarded the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR) New Innovator in Food and Agricultural Research Award. He received the 2020 Texas A&M AgriLife Research Directors Superior Grantsmanship Award for excellence in grantsmanship (top 2% of 432 faculty across all Texas A&M agricultural science disciplines for grant awards), and the 2022 Texas A&M AgriLife Research Scientist of the Year Award. 

Mandadi also is deeply committed to teaching, mentoring, and service/Extension activities. Since 2015, he has supervised and mentored >30 undergraduates (mainly Hispanic minorities and women); served as a chair, cochair, or committee member of 10 graduate students (M.S. and Ph.D.); and advised 7 postdoctoral research associates and 5 research scientists. He frequently guest lectures in plant pathology graduate courses on the College Station campus. In addition, Mandadi is active on the editorial board of multiple scientific journals, including as an associate editor of Phytopathology. He has organized and led numerous plant pathology/biology scientific meetings and committees. For instance, he served as vice president, president, and immediate past president (2016–2019) of the Texas Plant Protection Association. In 2022, he served on the organizing committee of the 2nd Congress of the International Society for Citrus Huanglongbing and Phloem-Colonizing Bacterial Pathosystems. He also served two terms as a nominated member of the American Society of Plant Biologists on the Membership Committee (2012–2014) and the International Committee (2016–2020). Most recently, he chaired the local organizing committee to host the 2023 Annual Meeting of the APS Caribbean Division at South Padre Island, TX. In these roles, he continuously promotes agricultural research, Extension, and policy to benefit various public- and private-sector stakeholders. 

In summary, Mandadi's innovative and exemplary research and Extension contributions have significantly impacted the plant pathology scientific community and public-private sector stakeholders.​