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UF/IFAS global plant disease expert named national science fellow

Frank White AAAS 120415

Frank White

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences global authority on the genetic basis of plant disease resistance has been named a Fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Frank White, professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, was named a Fellow last month.

“It is an honor to be recognized by your fellow scientists,” White said. “I was very pleased when notified. Of course, much credit goes to the many outstanding young scientists who worked in my group and numerous excellent mentors and collaborators during my career.”

White earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and his doctorate in microbiology and immunology from the University of Washington. He also received the National Science Foundation pre- and post-doctoral fellowships.

He is an international authority on plant-microbial interactions and the genetic basis of plant disease and resistance. Early in his career, White made major contributions to global understanding of the bacterium Agrobacterium, which transfers DNA to plants during plant infections. Agrobacterium is now used routinely for plant genetic engineering.

“Our most recent research involves bacterial diseases of plants that, in Florida, are related to bacterial canker of citrus,” White said. “We discovered that the bacteria transfer proteins into plant cells during infection that have a profound effect on host gene expression.”

The proteins act directly as genetic expression factors, which he and his colleagues named transcription activation-like, or TAL, effectors. Subsequently, TAL effectors were discovered to be DNA sequence-specific binding proteins and are now used for genome editing (so-called TALENS) in all types of cells, including humans.

“Our work continues in the area of designing strategies for broad, durable genetic resistance to plant pathogens and understanding the basic mechanism of disease susceptibility and resistance,” he said.

White has earned about $9 million in competitive research support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and The Rockefeller Foundation. His strong record of publications, grant funding and invited talks are indicative of the esteem with which he is viewed by his peers, according to material provided by the AAAS.

He has served as journal editor, organized a variety of symposia, authored numerous book chapters, and 75 refereed articles. White serves as reviewer and panelist for many funding organizations and agencies at the national, state and international level.  He has served as the major or co-major professor for 14 graduate students and participated in a variety of outreach programs, including lectures to high school biology teachers and hosting summer undergraduate research participants.

White was elected as a 2010 Fellow in the American Phytopathological Society, elected as a member of the Distinguished Graduate Faculty at Kansas State University in 2010 and received the Higuchi-Endowment Association Research Achievement Award from the University of Kansas in 2014.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Frank White, 352-273-4645, ffwhite@ufl.edu