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UC Davis Nematologists Excel at International Meeting

Doctoral students in the laboratory of nematologist Shahid Siddique, associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, excelled at the 62nd annual meeting of the Society of Nematologists (SON), held July 9-14 in Columbus, Ohio.

It was the lab mates’ first-ever conference, and they brought home first- and second-place awards, in addition to a second-place tie in the Cobb Bowl competition which memorializes Nathan Cobb (1859-1932), the father of nematology.

Alison Coomer Blundell, who will be a fourth-year doctoral candidate in Plant Pathology this fall, won first place in the three-minute student competition with her presentation on “Trade Offs Between Resistance Breaking and Fitness Cost in Root-Knot Nematodes.” She received a $250 award and a plaque.

Alison Coomer Blundell, first place winner in the three-minute student competition with her presentation on “Trade Offs Between Resistance Breaking and Fitness Cost in Root-Knot Nematodes.”

Ching-Jung Lin, who will be a fourth-year doctoral student this fall, won second place in the 12-minute category with her presentation on “Elucidating the Role of MigPSY Peptides in Interactions Between Plants and Root-Knot Nematodes.” She received a $250 prize.

The six-member Siddique lab team, “Meloidogyne Gang Gang,” which included Blundell, Lin, third-year doctoral student Pallavi Shakya, and second-year doctoral student Veronica Casey, tied for second place in the Cobb Bowl, a jeopardy-like competition that can include both students and postdoctoral fellows on the teams.

“I am very humbled by the award and recognition but am very proud of seeing all my lab mates accomplish their presentations and get good feedback and recognition as well,” said Blundell, who seeks a PhD in plant pathology. She holds two undergraduate degrees–a bachelor’s degree in biology and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry–from Concordia University, Seward, Neb.

“I was first introduced to nematodes in my undergraduate studies where I maintained C. elegans (Caenorhabditis elegans) cultures, but was introduced to plant parasitic nematodes when Dr. Siddique reached out to me about becoming a member in his lab,” Blundell said. “This was my first time at SON, and for all my lab mates. SON has allowed me to meet people I have heard about or have talked to on Zoom, email, or twitter and also make new connections with many U.S. states and universities.”

Lin enrolled in the UC Davis Plant Pathology doctoral program, with a designated emphasis in biotechnology, in 2020. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in agronomy in 2015 from the National Chung Hsing University, Taichung, Taiwan, and her master’s degree in plant biology in 2018 from National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan. She recently received a two-year, $32,000 Ministry of Education Taiwan Government Scholarship to Study Abroad (GSSA).

Lin, a first-generation international student, credits co-principal investigator Professor Gitta Coaker of Plant Pathology and the Coaker Lab with mentoring her, offering presentation suggestions. “It was very much appreciated,” she said.

Six teams competed in the Cobb Bowl. The study material is based on six decks of nematode trading cards created by Jon Eisenback, professor in  Virginia Tech’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences. He also hosted the game as “SmartAlex EisenTrebeck.” He asked questions in the form of an answer, such as”

  • Question: “The Guava root-knot nematode.”
    Answer: “Meloidogyne enterolobii
  • Question: “First report of root-knot nematodes.”
    Answer:”Who is Miles Joseph Berkeley?”

“The most difficult question, said team member Veronica Casey was: “The color of the first edition of the Journal of Nematology.”

“The answer was simply, ‘What is orange?’ but many teams thought it was green,” Casey related. “Another difficult question was ‘The full species name of the Beech Leaf disease nematode.’ The answer: “What is Litylenchus crenatae mccannii?”

The University of Idaho team won the Cobb Bowl. The UC Davis team, which also included a postdoctoral fellow from the University of Illinois and a graduate student from Montana State University, tied for second place with two other teams: AlohaNema, comprised primarily of students from the University of Hawaii, and Nemafolks, comprised of students from a number of  universities, including Michigan State, Oregon State and Texas Tech. The other two teams represented the University of Florida and The Ohio State University.

Also at the SON meeting, Siddique participated in a session titled “Nematology Faces of the Future.” In his five-minute self-introduction, he displayed a map showing how far he has traveled. A native of Multan, Pakistan, he received two degrees in Multan: his bachelor of science degree from the Government College Bosan Road in 2001 and his master’s degree in botany from the Bahauddin Zakariya University in 2004. Then it was off to Vienna, Austria to receive his doctorate in 2009 in agriculture and biotechnology from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. After serving as a research group leader for several years at the University of Bonn, Germany, he joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty in 2019 as an assistant professor and advanced to associate professor this year.

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