Graduate Student Feature
By Alex Batson
Alex Batson is currently a M.S. student in the Department of Plant Pathology at Washington State University’s Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center. He is advised by Dr. Lindsey du Toit in the Vegetable Seed Pathology program. His thesis project, “Identification of effector genes for the spinach Fusarium wilt pathogen, Fusarium oxysporum forma specialis (f. sp.) spinaciae,” aims to understand what defines the fungus F. oxysporum f. sp. spinaciae genetically as a pathogen of spinach. Spinach Fusarium wilt is the greatest limitation to spinach seed production in the maritime Pacific Northwest (western Washington and Oregon), which is the only region in the United States that is suitable climatically for producing spinach seed. The maritime Pacific Northwest produces almost 100% of the spinach seed grown commercially in the United States and up to 20% of the global supply of spinach seed.
Alex visited the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands for six weeks during fall 2018 to analyze genomic data he generated from isolates of the spinach Fusarium wilt pathogen, as well as closely related isolates that are not pathogens of spinach. He worked under the guidance of Dr. Martijn Rep and Dr. Like Fokkens, two Fusarium oxysporum specialists, to assemble the genomes of these isolates and identify regions of DNA that are specific to the spinach pathogen. Through this collaboration, Alex found unique regions of the genome of the spinach pathogen, and he identified a list of candidate genes that may be important for enabling this fungus to cause disease on spinach. These findings will be helpful for developing strategies to detect the pathogen rapidly, as well as provide useful information to spinach breeders. Alex has applied to join a Ph.D. degree program at WSU in fall 2019 to continue working on this project.
The progress that Alex made during his six-week visit to the Netherlands was made possible by the generous support of the Richard and Marcia Morrison Seed Production Pathology and Seed Health Fellowship, the Robert MacDonald Graduate Fellowship in Vegetable Seed Science, and the WSU Graduate and Professional Student Association Travel Grant.