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USDA-ARS Postdoctoral Research Opportunity in Plant Pathology

ARS Office/Lab and LocationA research opportunity in foreign pathogens causing destructive plant diseases affecting boxwood and impatiens is currently available with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), within the Foreign Disease Weed Science Research Unit (FDWSRU) located in Frederick, Maryland.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency with a mission to find solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day from field to table. ARS will deliver cutting-edge, scientific tools and innovative solutions for American farmers, producers, industry, and communities to support the nourishment and well-being of all people; sustain our nation’s agroecosystems and natural resources; and ensure the economic competitiveness and excellence of our agriculture. The vision of the agency is to provide global leadership in agricultural discoveries through scientific excellence.

Research Project Two research opportunities are available to study 

  • Boxwood blight disease. Boxwood blight is a destructive emergent fungal disease with a significant impact on plant health in the U.S. and globally. A major challenge for developing long-term control options for boxwood blight is that we know very little about how the two fungal species that cause the disease establish infection and overcome the host’s immune response. Pathogen genotypic variation and global population structure has been determined, but it is currently unknown how these genotypes correspond to phenotypic properties, and how pathogen variation contributes to observed differences in virulence across different boxwood cultivars and species. The post-doctoral research participant will: (1) leverage greenhouse infection assays, transcriptomics, comparative genomics and fluorescent imaging to characterize host-pathogen interactions by different species and genotypes of the boxwood blight fungi; and (2) determine whether there is a correlation in disease severity between pathogen genotype and the host genotype/resistance phenotype.
  • Impatiens downy mildew disease. The post-graduate (post-MS/PhD) research participant will study the role of propagative materials as a source of pathogen spread, focused on the recently emerged and highly destructive downy mildew pathogen of impatiens. Impatiens downy mildew disease first became a problem for U.S. impatiens production during 2011-12. Millions of dollars have been lost to this disease and future losses are likely for bedding plant growers of all sizes. The 2020 growing season was especially troublesome for producers of impatiens as downy mildew was noted in greenhouses in several key growing areas of the U.S. The research participant will use molecular tools (qPCR, RPA assays, SSR markers) and precision microscopy to assess the role of propagative materials (seed, cuttings) in the national and international distribution of the impatiens downy mildew pathogen.

Learning Objectives: Under the guidance of a mentor, the participants may be involved in the following activities:

  • Study of host-pathogen interactions to understand the molecular mechanisms involved in virulence
  • Design and develop experiments including RNA-Seq
  • Live imaging microscopy
  • Use & development of qPCR, RPA, and SSR markers
  • Next generation sequencing
  • Data analysis
  • Drafting manuscripts reporting experimental results

Our programs and resourcesThe research associate will join a research facility that is uniquely focused on plant pathogens, with a staff that includes 15 scientists and support scientists, nine technicians, plus three post-graduate researchers are already on board. Our 43,000 square foot research facility provides a wide range of labs, greenhouses, and growth chambers, including a 10,000 square foot BSL3 containment facility, plus powerful computational and bioinformatic tools through the ARS SciNet platform. In short, we provide an outstanding research environment, excellent networking opportunities, a strong in-house peer group experience, and ample support for early career scientists interested in a unique and challenging post-graduate research experience.

Where we are located (life outside the lab!)The facility is located in Frederick, Maryland, approximately one hour north of Washington D.C. The historic city of Frederick is surrounded by scenic mountain views and farmlands. In the city, there is a vibrant main street and downtown culture, a 40-block historic district of Civil-War era buildings, cutting-edge cuisine, galleries, museums, concerts, special events, theaters and several parks. The area is full of local craft breweries, creameries, wineries, orchards, caverns, camping, historic covered bridges and battlefields, and several national parks for hiking, biking, fishing, boating and outdoor fun (

The USDA-ARS Foreign Disease Weed Science Research Unit (FDWSRU) is a unique governmental research facility, comprising eleven independent PI labs conducting research on a multitude of foreign plant pathogens and invasive weeds, including USDA-APHIS Select Agents and other high-risk fungi, oomycetes, bacteria, and viruses. The facility is located on Fort Detrick, a U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command installation that supports a multi-governmental community of biomedical and agricultural research and development.

The qualified candidate should have received a master's or doctoral degree in one of the relevant fields (e.g. Agricultural Sciences, Agriculture, Agronomy and Crop Science, Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, Biology, etc.) or be currently pursuing one of the degrees with completion by August 31, 2022.

Preferred Skills:

  • Experience developing and conducting experiments using NGS-based genome/transcriptome sequencing and differential gene expression analysis in planta (i.e. RNA/DNA extractions, PCR/qPCR, NGS, RNA-Seq, etc.).
  • Proficiency with scripting languages (e.g. R, Bash, Perl, Python) and with open-source bioinformatics tools.
  • NGS data/statistical analyses in R/Bioconductor or Python.
  • Experience with sequence data management and distributed computer systems managed by the SLURM or SGE job management systems is highly desired.
  • Experience with high resolution microscopic imaging using fluorescent labelling to study plant-microbe interactions is also a plus.
  • Excellent wet lab and basic molecular biology skills.
  • Be highly motivated, reliable, and able to succeed in a diverse, collaborative, and interdisciplinary environment.