The FABI International Seminar Series

In light of the extraordinary circumstances experienced around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most, if not all, scientific meetings have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. One of the many benefits of these meetings is science engagement.


The FABI International Seminar Series provides an opportunity for our research community to continue discussions on various topics. Our guest speakers will cover a wide range of topics related to plant health. Our monthly virtual seminars are open to all registered participants ensuring a wide audience.


Please fill in the registration form on the left menu of this page should you be interested in attending these events. You will be contact via email provided with relevant information on the seminar for each month. If you wish to contribute to this initiative by offering to present your research, please contact Dr Neriman Yilmaz or Dr Markus Wilken.


Upcoming seminar: 29 September 2022 - Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)

Speaker: Dr. Melvin Bolton, Sugarbeet and Potato Research Unit in Fargo, North Dakota

Title: Shedding light on a sugar beet pathogen’s dark secrets – the role of secondary metabolite effectors and CbNip1 in Cercospora beticola pathology

Registration information

Please fill in the registration form below should you wish to attend the seminars in The FABI International Seminar Series for 2022. You will be provided with information regarding the seminar for each month.


Registration Form

Biographical information


September, 2022

Speaker: Dr. Melvin Bolton

Title: Shedding light on a sugar beet pathogen’s dark secrets – the role of secondary metabolite effectors and CbNip1 in Cercospora beticola pathology

Date: 29 September 2022                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Cercospora leaf spot (CLS) is the most destructive foliar disease of sugar beet (Beta vulgaris ssp. vulgaris L.) worldwide. The disease is caused by the fungus Cercospora beticola, a hemibiotrophic fungal pathogen that utilizes an array of effectors to facilitate disease. After an initial symptomless biotrophic phase of colonization, necrotic lesions appear on host leaves as the fungus switches to a necrotrophic lifestyle. The secondary metabolite effector cercosporin has been shown to facilitate disease in some Cercospora spp., likely through the light-dependent formation of reactive oxygen species that can cause host cell death. In contrast, the protein effector CbNip1 causes enhanced necrosis in the absence of light, and therefore may complement light-dependent necrosis. Despite recent gains in our understanding of C. beticola pathology, the lack of stable host resistance to CLS has necessitated that growers use fungicides to combat this pathogen. However, C. beticola populations have an uncanny ability to evolve resistance in the face of fungicide selection pressures. Resistance mechanisms to commonly used fungicides for CLS management will be discussed.


Biography:  Dr. Melvin Bolton attended graduate school at North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND. During this time, Dr. Bolton was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study at Wageningen University, the Netherlands where he studied effector proteins from the tomato pathogens Cladosporium fulvum and Verticillium dahliae. After completing his Ph.D. in 2006, Dr. Bolton joined the United States Department of Agriculture as a postdoctoral scientist at the Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, MN where he focused on leaf rust of wheat. Dr. Bolton accepted a position as a Research Plant Pathologist at the Sugarbeet and Potato Research Unit in Fargo, ND in 2008 and has served as the Unit’s Research Leader since 2016. Dr. Bolton is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Plant Pathology at NDSU. Dr. Bolton serves on several regional, national, and international boards, councils, and committees. Dr. Bolton’s research primarily focuses on fungicide resistance management and the molecular biology of fungal and viral diseases of sugarbeet.


August, 2022

Speaker: Dr. Stephen Taerum

Title: Exploring protist diversity and interactions in the phytobiome

Date: 25 August 2022                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: AProtists, or single-cell eukaryotes, are highly diverse and abundant components of plant microbiomes. They influence plant health by recycling nutrients, shaping bacterial and fungal communities, and mitigating the impact of plant pathogens. However, apart from some pathogenic protists, such as Phytophthora, little is known about their diversity and impact in the phytobiome. Stephen will be discussing his research on protists and their associated bacteria in plant microbiomes, with a focus on maize and five solanaceous species. Using high-throughput amplicon sequencing, he discovered that the different plant species were associated with highly similar protist communities. However, there were significant differences between plant compartments, as the phyllosphere (i.e., leaf-associated) communities were less diverse than and highly distinct from the rhizosphere (root-associated) communities. The rhizosphere communities in turn were less diverse than the surrounding bulk soil. Finally, using co-occurrence networks between protists and bacteria in the different plant compartments, he discovered several bacteria and protist taxa that formed important hubs in these networks, and are candidates for future research on protists in the phytobiome. Currently, he is conducting experimental research using protists cultured from maize roots to examine interactions between plants, protists and bacteria. This research sheds light on a neglected component of most phytobiome studies, and will hopefully encourage additional research on the protist phytobiome.


Biography:  Dr. Stephen Taerum received his PhD from FABI in 2015, where he studied the symbiosis between red turpentine beetles and ophiostomatoid fungi. Soon after graduating, Stephen started a postdoctoral research position at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, USA, where he researched the fascinating evolutionary history between termites and protists. In 2019, he started another postdoctoral position at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, to focus on symbiotic interactions between protists and plants. He is currently investigating the complex interactions between plants, protists and bacteria using a variety of crop species.


July, 2022

Speaker: Dr. Malia Gehan

Title: Open Challenges in Plant Phenotyping with PlantCV

Date: 28 July 2022                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: To tackle the challenge of producing more food and fuel with fewer inputs a variety of strategies to improve and sustain crop yields will need to be explored. These strategies may include: mining natural variation of wild crop relatives to breed crops that require less water; increasing crop temperature tolerance to expand the geographical range in which they grow; and altering the architecture of crops so they can maintain productivity while being grown more densely. These research objectives can be achieved with a variety of methodologies, but they will require both high-throughput DNA sequencing and phenotyping technologies. A major bottleneck in plant science is the ability to efficiently and non-destructively quantify plant traits (phenotypes) through time. PlantCV ( is an open-source and open development suite of image processing and analysis tools that analyzes images from visible, near-infrared, hyperspectral, thermal, and fluorescent cameras. Here we present new PlantCV analysis tools available in version 4.0, which includes interactive documentation, color correction, and the development of thermal and hyperspectral imaging tools aimed at the identification of early abiotic stress response.


Biography:  Malia Gehan did her Ph.D. research examining the intersection of cold signaling and the circadian at Michigan State University. She was a NSF Plant Genome Postdoctoral Fellow and is an Assistant Member and Principal Investigator at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, whose group focuses understanding mechanisms of crop resilience under temperature stress. To study temperature stress and natural variation, the Gehan lab develops high-throughput and high-resolution image-based phenotyping technologies, including low-cost solutions that use Raspberry Pi computers. The Gehan Lab co-develops and maintain the open-source open-development suite of image analysis tools, PlantCV (, along with Dr. Noah Fahlgren’s group. In 2021, she received an early career award from the North American Plant Phenotyping Networky.


June, 2022

Speaker: Prof. Keith Seifert

Title: In the right place at the right time: Three “microfungi” that changed the world

Date: 30 June 2022                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: To celebrate the publication of “The Hidden Kingdom of Fungi,” my recent book for general readers, I will present three stories in depth to show the profound effects of fungi (or “phungi”) can have on human affairs. We will follow the path of the Great Potato Famine from its origins to the Irish diaspora of millions of victims to Canada and the USA, Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa. We will look at the discovery of penicillin and its impacts on World War II and conflicting concepts of intellectual property. Then we will consider the emergence of aflatoxin as a major threat to public health, especially in the developing world. These stories show that the impacts of fungi and fungal research extend far beyond the corridors of science. They also challenge the “eureka”’ or “lone genius” stereotype of discovery, and illustrate that national interests often clash with international cooperation in science. An alternative model of discovery, sometimes called the “adjacent possible,” explains why certain kinds of discoveries occur at a specific time and place.


Biography: For more than 40 years, Canadian mycologist Keith Seifert specialized in the identification and classification of microscopic fungi producing toxins in crops and foods. He worked as a Research Scientist for Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada in Ottawa from 1990-2019. His academic publications include >250 scientific papers and six books (including two co-edited with Mike Wingfield). He retired from research in 2019 to write about interactions between science, the arts, history and society.


May, 2022

Speaker: Dr. Claudia Coleine

Title: Microbiomes from extreme environments: challenges to thrive in the most prohibitive conditions

Date: 26 May 2022                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Extreme environments, defined from our anthropocentric view, are typically devoid of macro life forms and are instead inhabited predominantly by highly adapted and specialized microorganisms, namely extreme-tolerant and extremophiles that are able to tolerate and even thrive in the most prohibitive conditions (e.g. space and Martian simulated conditions). The discovery and persistence of these organisms have reshaped current concepts regarding the limits of life, for as we know it, on our planet. Yet, to the best of our knowledge, life is limited to Earth but the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe has fascinated humankind for ages. Unearthing terrestrial extreme microbiomes will be integral to provide the foundational principles needed to predict what sort of Earth-like organisms we might find in the Solar System and beyond, and to understand the future and origins of life on Earth.


Biography:  Dr. Claudia Coleine received her bachelor's, master's and PhD degrees from University of Tuscia, Italy. During her postdoctoral research, she was Principal Investigator of a project funded by Italian National Program for Antarctic Research. She is currently a Marie Curie Global Fellow, whose the project will focus on untangling the microbiome of US drylands and defining those physico-chemical conditions that still allow active life, even at the extremely low water regimes (i.e. hyperarid regions), in an era of global warming and rapid desertification.


April, 2022

Speaker: Dr. Svetlana Y. Folimonova

Title: Understanding cross-protection by Citrus tristeza virus: our quest for the answer to a century-old question

Date: 28 April 2022                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Citrus tristeza virus (CTV) is recognized as the most destructive viral pathogen of citrus. During the past century, CTV-induced epidemics killed more than 100 million citrus trees in North and South America and the Mediterranean, and the virus continues to threaten citrus production in many regions, including South Africa. One of the main focuses of our research is understanding the mechanism of viral cross-protection (also referred to as superinfection exclusion), a phenomenon in which a primary viral infection prevents a secondary infection with the same or closely-related virus. The phenomenon has been observed for viruses in various systems, including viruses that represent important pathogens of humans, animals, and plants. However, its mechanism is not well understood. Importantly, with CTV, cross-protection is the only means to protect citrus orchards against aggressive virus isolates that induce the stem pitting disease. Our research brought about the understanding of how CTV variants interact and exclude each other. The data we have obtained showed that cross-protection by CTV cannot be explained by the mechanisms described previously and is conferred by a novel mechanism understanding of which opens up new avenues to manage virus diseases.


Biography:  Dr. Svetlana Y. Folimonova received her PhD in Microbiology from Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia. She held a postdoctoral position at the S. R. Noble Foundation, Ardmore, Oklahoma and a postdoctoral position at the University of Florida, Citrus Research and Education Center, Lake Alfred, Florida. Dr. Folimonova was appointed Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, in 2012. In 2016, she was promoted to Associate Professor. Dr. Folimonova’s research program focuses on viral and bacterial pathogens of citrus, with the main emphasis on Citrus tristeza virus (CTV) and Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, a causal agent of citrus greening [Huanglongbing (HLB)]. Her primary research effort is concentrated on understanding the mechanisms of the infection process, host responses to the pathogens, and developing management strategies for these diseases. In 2020, Dr. Folimonova received a prestigious Syngenta Crop Protection Award from the American Phytopathological Society for her outstanding contributions to research on CTV and, specifically, for the elucidation of the mechanism of the CTV superinfection exclusion and for the research accomplishments on the development of the CTV-based vectors for expression of antimicrobial proteins for management of citrus greening. Dr. Folimonova also serves as Councilor for Plant Virology at the American Society for Virology.


March, 2022

Speaker: Dr. Jonàs Oliva

Title: Functional Ecology of Forest Disease

Date: 31 March 2022                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Global change is pressing forest pathologists to solve increasingly complex problems. We argue that functional ecology may help understanding interactive effects between forest pathogens and global warming, globalization, and land-use changes. Traits can be more informative about ecological functions than species inventories and may deliver a more mechanistic description of the process underlying forest disease. By using functional traits instead of species, we may be able to reduce the microbial communities to manageable categories with predictive power. Building up functional databases for pathogenicity is key to implementing these approaches. In the seminar, I will explain some guidelines and examples on how to develop a functional pathology approach to resolve burning issues on tree disease.


Biography:  I am interested in forest pathogens and their role in forest ecosystems. After my PhD, I spend nearly 10 years at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala (Sweden) working in Jan Stenlid's group. Currently, I am a "Ramón y Cajal" researcher at UdL where I am coordinating an emerging research group. My current projects focus on plant-soil feedbacks and the link between climate change and altitudinal and latitudinal range expansions of forest pathogens. We are also interested in root rot pathogens of the genera Heterobasidion and Armillaria both from the point of view of their economic impact but also on their role as disturbing agents affecting forest dynamics. Other projects of the group relate to the interaction between drought stress and pathogens like Diplodia sapinea or Heterobasidion annosum, and how they lead to tree mortality. Recently, we have started working on pathogens of the genus Phytophthora because of with their impact on alder stands near river ecosystems, but also as model organisms to study drivers of invasion such as global warming or intercontinental trade of infected plants.


February, 2022

Speaker: Dr. Alistair McTaggart

Title: Rust, sex, magic

Date: 22 February 2022                     Time: 12:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Alistair will share progress from three of his current research projects on rust fungi, sexual reproduction and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Rust: Myrtle rust is an invasive pathogen of Myrtaceae in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, with impacts to culturally significant and endangered trees. We have tested the mechanisms and applicability of RNA interference in rust fungi to show it inhibits germination and formation of appressoria and reduces infection in planta.
Sex: We showed the boundaries of sexual reproduction are informative for species-rank delimitation in the Fusarium oxysporum species complex. Our new research examines the frequency of horizontal exchange among species in the complex and whether accessory and dispensable genes support taxonomic hypotheses based on the core genome.
Magic: Research on psilocybin has been fast-tracked to study its benefits for human mental health. Progress in treatments of psilocybin are based on Psilocybe cyanescens, which is likely an introduced species in the northern hemisphere. Our project will determine the biodiversity and endemicity of hallucinogenic mushrooms in Australia, and test a hypothesis that Australia is the centre of origin of P. cyanescens. This project is the first to establish a living collection of Psilocybe in Australia, with a vision to catalyse future research in the innovations of psilocybin.


Biography:  Alistair studies the evolution and identification of fungi. His current research on biodiversity of magic mushrooms (Psilocybe) in Australia aims to determine which species are native and to conserve Australian biological heritage against habitat loss. His previous post-doctoral research was on molecular barcoding, phylogenetics and phylogenomics of fungi at the University of Pretoria (South Africa), Louisiana State University (USA), and the University of Queensland (Australia).


November, 2021

Speaker: Dr. Nicolas Langlade

Title: Multi-scale modelling to predict and understand sunflower tolerance to abiotic stresses and uses of high-throughput phenotyping.

Date: 25 November 20201                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: I will present an integrative approach conducted within the SUNRISE project that combines crop modelling and quantitative genetics to understand and predict drought tolerance. I will also exemplify how we took advantage of the high-throughput phenotyping platforms available at Phenotoul.


Biography:  I started my career in Switzerland (doctorate at the University of Neuchâtel) with E. Martinoia then in the United Kingdom (John Innes Center, Norwich), with E. Coen, focusing on the basics genetics of physiological and morphological adaptations of plants to environmental constraints and evolutionary forces. Recruited in 2006 at INRA as a post-doctorate researcher at the Plant Reproduction and Development Laboratory (Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon) with Peter Rogowsky, I briefly worked on the development of corn kernels.
I joined LIPME (INRAE Occitanie Toulouse) as senior researcher in 2007 and research director since 2016. I lead the ASTR research team (Abiotic Stress Tolerance in sunfloweR) which aims at identifying the genetic and molecular bases of adaptation of sunflower to abiotic constraints (drought and cold) at physiological and evolutionary levels.
Since my recruitment at LIPME, I have been setting up research infrastructures for sunflowers, for example with the sunflower building and cultivation spaces at LIPME, and more recently the creation of the high-throughput phenotyping infrastructure Phenotoul ( which, since 2019, brings together the TPMP platforms under controlled conditions, Heliaphen under semi-controlled conditions and Agrophen in the field.
In addition, I am strongly committed to the animation of the French sunflower research community through the coordination of the SUNRISE Investment for the Future Project, the animation of the sunflower technical commission of Promosol, the participation in the activities of the variety registration institution CTPS (in the Sunflower-Soy section and in the VATE). Internationally, I participate to the board of the International Sunflower Association (ISA) and on the scientific committee of the ICSG (International Consortium for Sunflower Genomics).
Through various ANR projects (Sunyfuel (2008-2011), Région-FUI Oleosol (2009-2013), the ICSG consortium then SUNRISE (2012-2020) I have actively developed genetic and genomic tools for the French and international community on sunflower, including the first sunflower reference genomic sequence, bioinformatic portals and numerous populations of genetic material (
This phenotyping know-how and genomic and genetic resources constitute a strong basis for my research activities in which I implement approaches of quantitative genetics, systems biology and phenotypic modeling in a synergy between public and private research.


October, 2021

Speaker: Dr. Charissa de Bekker

Title: What makes a zombie ant tick? Connecting fungal genomes with ant behavioural phenomes in Ophiocordyceps camponoti-floridani and its carpenter ant host.

Date: 28 October 2021                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Transmission-promoting summiting behaviours is a common parasitic manipulation, observed in a wide range of insect species, including those that get infected by fungi. Yet, the molecular mechanisms that these fungal parasites evolved to hijack host behaviours and the affected host pathways that give rise to altered behavioural phenotypes remain largely unknown. To provide a mechanistic perspective, we use carpenter ants and their manipulating Ophiocordyceps fungi as a model in which we combine comparative transcriptomics and metabolomics, with quantitative behavioral analyses, and functional genetics assays. As such, we have identified various candidate fungal compounds and ant host pathways that appear to be involved in the manipulated summiting of Ophiocordyceps-infected carpenter ants. These candidates are currently being tested through multiple functional genetics and behavioural assays. Additionally, through our behavioural studies we are learning how ant behaviours change in the early stages of fungal infection and that biological clocks are likely involved. As such, our integrative efforts are connecting behavioural phenotypes of infected and uninfected ants with the underlying host and fungal parasite genes that give rise to those phenotypes.


Biography:  Charissa de Bekker received her bachelor's, master's and PhD degrees from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. For her postdoctoral research she first worked at The Pennsylvania State University in the US for which she was awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship. Subsequently, she moved the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany where she received an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship. Currently, she is an assistant professor in the Biology Department at the University of Central Florida in the US. Here, her lab continues to work on Ophiocordyceps fungi, which is funded by a National Science Foundation CAREER award.


September, 2021

Speaker: Dr. Damon L. Smith

Title: Using Research-based Solutions for Managing Sclerotinia Stem Rot of Soybean 

Date: 30 September 2021                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Sclerotinia stem rot (SSR), caused by the fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum is one of the most important diseases of soybean in the Midwest U.S. In the last 5 seasons, SSR has resulted in more than 36 million bushels of yield loss in the Midwest region alone. Management of SSR is complicated and requires a multi-pronged approach. Researchers in the Midwest U.S. have been working to refine the integrated management strategy for SSR, which includes using resistant varieties, modifying row spacing and planting population, crop rotation, and fungicide applications. In addition, researchers are developing new techniques such as smartphone-based forecasting systems and using RNAi technology to combat SSR. This presentation will outline the latest SSR research-based tools and showcase how these tools have been integrated together to improve SSR management of soybeans. The presentation will also cover some of the new technologies being developed that may eventually be used to manage SSR.


Biography: Damon Smith is an Associate Professor and Extension Plant Pathologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison). Damon is also the Director of the Nutrient and Pest Management Program at UW-Madison. Damon's responsibilities include research efforts that focus on improving our understanding of the epidemiology of plant pathogens in order to develop better control recommendations for the sustainable management of field and forage crop diseases. Damon is a native of Western New York State. He earned his B.S. in Biological Sciences at the State University of New York, College at Geneseo, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from North Carolina State University. Prior to Damon's appointment at UW he was an assistant professor and extension specialist at Oklahoma State University for 5 years.


August, 2021

Speaker: Dr. Arunaloke Chakrabarti

Title: Mucormycosis in India

Date: 26 August 2021                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: Mucormycosis, the devastating fungal disease with high morbidity and mortality, is a serious healthcare problem in the Indian population. The disease has a high incidence among uncontrolled diabetics. Several unique features have been described for mucormycosis in India including risk factors, emergence of rare species, and isolated renal mucormycosis in young apparently healthy individuals. However, the present outbreak of COVID-19 associated mucormycosis (CAM) has many new features and made an unprecedented impact in healthcare. The number of CAM cases crossed >50,000 cases from 28 of 35 provinces or union territories in India. The mortality was >40%. Though the reason of the outbreak is not clearly known; environmental factors, diabetes, high steroid therapy, and COVID-19 virus itself are considered to contribute in disease development. The outbreak has posed a formidable challenge due to limited awareness, diagnostic mycology laboratories, trained manpower, and availability of anti-Mucorales drugs. Though the rate of fresh CAM cases has come down in recent days, the recurrence of the disease is a new challenge.



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July, 2021

Speaker: Dr. Anne Pringle

Title: The Problem of Invasive Mycorrhizal Fungi

Date: 29 July 2021                     Time: 16:00 (GMT+2)


Abstract: The global demand for timber and pulpwood facilitates a commercial trade in wood. Plants in nature grow symbiotically with mycorrhizal fungi and foresters routinely use mycorrhizal inocula to grow trees more quickly. But inoculation has also accelerated the movement of mycorrhizal fungi among continents; forestry plantations are hotbeds of introduced fungi. Introduced fungi may escape plantations; for example, in California the death cap Amanita phalloides is spreading through local coast live oak forests while in Colombia Amanita muscaria is invading remnant forests of Quercus humboltdii. The problem of invasive, mutualist fungi is hardly discussed but invasive ectomycorrhizal species are characterized by a rich natural history of host shifts, changes in phenology and abundance, and mating system transitions. In my talk I'll focus on the potential impacts of invasive ectomycorrhizal fungi. In particular, I'll question whether it is possible for scientists to collect "baseline" data documenting fungal biodiversity. The movements of soils and fungi as undertaken by humans over the last century may have irrevocably altered local habitats to an extent that baselines are already lost.