Our lab focuses on advancing the field of plant-microbe interactions in the phyllosphere. We use tomato as our host as it offers the opportunity to study two distinct leaf pathogens, Xanthomonas gardneri (as well as the other Xanthomonas sp.) that causes bacterial spot and Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato that causes bacterial speck. We use Salmonella enterica as a biological reporter and stand in for nonpathogenic leaf epiphytes.

We are interested in how infection fundamentally alters the host and creates novel niches. We have documented how infected plants increase the incidence of rare members of the plant microbiota, namely bacterial human pathogens, such as S. enterica. This increase in incidence and population growth results from the conversion of a rarely accessible, inhabitable environment to an obtainable, habitable niche following infection. Nonetheless, what mechanisms drive this host change and the details of the changes remain poorly understood and require investigation to reach a deeper understanding of how infection alters a host.

We take a diverse approach to study these plant – microbe interactions from bacterial genetics to computational biology.  Although not directly translational, our research sets a foundation to reduce food-borne illness caused by consumption of contaminated healthy food stuff such as fresh produce which is an immediate need.