Davidson Fellows - 2012 Fellow Cody He


Cody He

$25,000 Scholarship Recipient

Age: 17
Okemos, MI
Category: Science
Project Title: “A Novel Role of an Actin Capping Protein in Plant Immune Signaling.”


Cody sought to better understand the plant immune system and studied the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and the bacteria Psuedomonas syringae, which is a plant pathogen. He focused on how intracellular signaling in plants worked to produce an effective immune response against bacterial pathogens. In order to infect plants, some bacteria have developed proteins called effectors that suppress the plant immune system. It has been well established that plants have evolved a system of defense that turns these weapons against the bacteria themselves. Plants have resistance proteins that recognize these effectors and subsequently trigger an immune response against the pathogen. In his study, he identified a new role in the recognition of bacterial effectors for an actin capping protein (Arabidopsis thaliana Capping Protein). He discovered that AtCP is required for the mRNA expression of PBS1, a protein kinase that is required for the recognition of the P. syringae effector protein AvrPphB. This is significant because Arabidopsis thaliana Capping Protein is the first actin binding protein that has been shown to be required for the expression of an immune protein in plants.

From the Irish Potato Famine to the recent Black Stem Rust Disease epidemic in Africa and Asia, outbreaks of plant disease have proven devastating to both human health and the economy. To date, crop loss remains a critical problem, especially in developing nations, which experience as high as a 20% loss in crop yield each year. With ever-growing populations, a pressing concern that many of these nations face is the possibility of food shortages. According to the United Nations, hunger affects more than one in seven people in the world today, totaling an estimated one billion people worldwide. Research into developing plants with higher disease tolerance is crucial in the fight to combat crop loss, and ultimately save lives. While current plant protection techniques, such as the creation of new strains of genetically modified crops, have proven successful for control of some plant pathogens, insight into the plant immune system has lagged far behind the well-characterized human system. Expansion of our fundamental knowledge of how plants resist disease is crucial for the improvement of the techniques used in the field to control these diseases.

Cody is a National Merit Scholar, Intel Science Talent Search Finalist and Congressional Medal of Merit Recipient. He is a freshman at Harvard and considering the MD/PhD to become a physician scientist.

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Click here to view the full listing of the 2012 Davidson Fellows. 
Click here to view Cody's press release.

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