Rebecca Bart,

PhD

Associate Member

The Power of Plants

Becky Bart was a biology major interested in animal systems when she studied abroad in Nepal.

“I did a research project on how Nepalese people use plants for medicine. I was amazed at the diversity of plants and through my research, confirmed that a lot of the plants they were using did indeed have antimicrobial properties.” She went on to pursue a PhD in Plant Pathology and is today a principal investigator at the Danforth Center.

The Puzzle

The Bart Lab studies how the environment affects the interaction of plants and microbes. “The way in which hosts and pathogens interact is an exquisitely specific mechanism, almost like a lock and key. That puzzle of how those two things fit together—how they are continually trying to get the upper hand—that is fascinating.”

While most plants are resistant to most pathogens, when disease does occur, it can be devastating to farmers and consumers. Pesticides are often employed in an attempt to limit spread, further adding to the total cost of disease. The Bart Lab focuses on exploring natural genetic diversity and exploiting identified traits for sustainable crop improvement.

Today, the tools to “unlock the lock” are better than ever. “With gene editing using CRISPR-Cas9 and all of its newer derivatives, we are able to ask questions, design experiments, and find answers in one-tenth the time it used to take. And also get a better, clearer, more specific answer.”

What Keeps Her Motivated

Becky believes passionately that food security is a basic human right. “Far too many people don’t have access to adequate food and nutrition. It’s connected to everything else that shows up in the news—political unrest, destruction of the rainforests, etc. The potential of foundational science to lead to a beneficial outcome for the world has kept my interest even when things are challenging.”

She also acknowledges the special role played by the nonprofit Danforth Center. “One of the things that is most important and unique about being at the Danforth Center and doing this work, is that we can prioritize purely by what is important and focus on that. Sometimes you discover something you weren’t even looking for simply by asking questions and trying to answer them. And the infrastructure we have access to is unparalleled.”

 

Innovative Leap

During her career as a plant pathologist, Becky cites the discovery of RNA interference (or RNAi) as a major leap forward. “It’s a natural mechanism that plants have to defend themselves. It has potential benefits in crops to control virus diseases as an effective mechanism for doing crop improvement.”

On the importance of nonprofits

"Nonprofits have a really important role to play in biotechnology as an unbiased player in the discussion."

Fun Fact

She is an accomplished musician—playing violin, mandolin, and guitar—and was in a bluegrass band in Berkeley.

On the importance of nonprofits

"Nonprofits have a really important role to play in biotechnology as an unbiased player in the discussion."

Fun Fact

She is an accomplished musician—playing violin, mandolin, and guitar—and was in a bluegrass band in Berkeley.

Get in touch with Rebecca Bart

Research Team
Research Summary

The Bart laboratory combines genetics with molecular and computational biology to study host-microbe interactions in important crops including, cassava, sorghum, and cotton.

Rebecca Bart

Principal Investigator, Associate Member

Jeffrey Berry

Senior Computational Scientist

Adam Boyher

Senior Computational Scientist

Kiona Elliott

Graduate Student

Taylor Harris

Graduate Student

Greg Jensen

Research Associate

Ke Ke

Laboratory Assistant

Ben Mansfeld

Postdoctoral Associate

Mingsheng Qi

Research Scientist

Ali Soltani

Visiting Scientist

Kira Veley

Research Scientist

Qi Wang

Research Scientist

Alex Weil

Laboratory Assistant

Marisa Yoder

Lab Technician

Rebecca Bart

Principal Investigator, Associate Member

Jeffrey Berry

Senior Computational Scientist

Adam Boyher

Senior Computational Scientist

Kiona Elliott

Graduate Student

Taylor Harris

Graduate Student

Greg Jensen

Research Associate

Ke Ke

Laboratory Assistant

Ben Mansfeld

Postdoctoral Associate

Mingsheng Qi

Research Scientist

Ali Soltani

Visiting Scientist

Kira Veley

Research Scientist

Qi Wang

Research Scientist

Alex Weil

Laboratory Assistant

Marisa Yoder

Lab Technician

Show AllShow Less

Rebecca’s research combines genetics with molecular and computational biology to learn about the mechanisms used by hosts and pathogens to recognize and respond to one another and the environment.

The 21st century is a transformative time to be a geneticist with an affinity for agriculture because modern molecular biology tools can be readily applied to genetically intractable organisms. In the Bart Lab, we combine genetics with molecular and computational biology to further understand the complex interactions between hosts and pathogens. While most plants are resistant to most pathogens, when disease does occur, it can be devastating to farmers and consumers. Pesticides are often employed in an attempt to limit spread, further adding to the total cost of disease. The Bart lab focuses on exploring natural genetic diversity and exploiting identified phenotypic traits for sustainable crop improvement. We are currently focused on Bacterial Blight of cassava and cotton.

The disease triangle of plant pathology tells us that the host, the pathogen as well as the environment affect the observed severity of a given disease.

HOST

On the host side, the Bart lab is working to identify resistance genes for use in crop improvement. A major limitation facing this type of crop improvement is the slow and laborious nature of traditional breeding. Next-generation sequencing technologies can be applied rapidly to any organism and can increase the speed at which genetic loci are identified. The majority of identified resistance genes contain nucleotide-binding site and leucine rich repeat domains. The lab is working to develop computational methods of using genomics data to identify candidate resistance genes. These candidates will be validated through transient assays and then used directly for crop improvement. In addition, future research will aim to tease out the molecular mechanisms governing resistance gene function.

PATHOGEN

On the pathogen side, the Bart lab aims to identify conserved components of the microbial arsenal, as resistance genes generally target proteins involved in pathogen virulence. Targeting the most highly conserved virulence components with resistance strategies will lead to durable resistance in the field. Here again we can apply next generation sequencing to rapidly construct draft genomes for hundreds of bacterial isolates. Genes involved in virulence are computationally predicted and used as molecular probes for cognate resistance genes. A sub-class of bacterial virulence determinants known as type three effectors (T3Es) are secreted directly into the plant cell via the type three secretion system. Many T3Es contain eukaryotic domains that allow them to function inside the host cell. Transcription activator-like (TAL) effectors, for example, are able to bind promoter elements and direct transcription of host genes. TAL effectors have received attention recently for their potential in genome editing. Research in the Bart lab aims to understand the molecular function of these effectors as well as to characterize their respective roles in overall virulence.

ENVIRONMENT

Many bacterial diseases require humid climates to establish infection. A long-term goal of the Bart laboratory is to understand the impact of environmental changes on the interaction between pathogens and their hosts. Examples of important environmental changes include modulations in temperature and humidity throughout the growing season or as a result of global climate change, new cultivar introduction, and chemical inputs.