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Graduate students in plant pathology awarded research grants, honorable mentions

Posted: April 24, 2020

Three graduate students in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences were among those who received grants and honorable mentions this year from the National Science Foundation.
IMAGE: PENN STATE

IMAGE: PENN STATE

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Three graduate students in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences were among those who received grants and honorable mentions this year from the National Science Foundation.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited institutions in the United States. 

Caylon Yates, a graduate student studying in the lab of Terrence Bell, assistant professor of phytobiomes, is in the ecology program in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. The fellowship will help him continue research on microbial survival in unfamiliar soil environments that can be modified through in-soil conditioning.

“Since day one, Caylon has committed to immersing himself in his field,” said Bell. “He understands how to push the bounds of what he knows, and how to engage others to increase the impact of his research. He is well on his way to both, an exceptional thesis and an impactful career beyond graduate school.”

Yates is the vice president for the Macrobes for Microbes student organization on campus, where he provides mentorship to undergraduate students in the lab. After completing his doctoral degree, he plans to conduct microbial ecology research at a national lab or university.

“I am grateful to everyone who has helped me along this process and mentored me on my research path,” said Yates. 

Graduate students Mary Smith and Jeremy Held both received honorable mentions. Advised by Kevin Hockett, assistant professor, Smith’s research focuses on understanding the dynamics involved when Pseudomonas syringae competes with members of the same species using narrow-range proteinaceous antimicrobial compounds called bacteriocins. 

Held, advised by Timothy McNellis, associate professor, is investigating how tobacco recognizes the fire blight-causing bacterium Erwinia amylovora and initiates a defense response that hinders bacterial growth. As part of his research, the discovery of genes controlling this process could be utilized to develop fire blight-resistant apple and pear varieties.