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Professor Wenbo Ma to join The Sainsbury Laboratory


The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) is pleased to announce that Professor Wenbo Ma will be joining our team as Senior Group Leader in July 2020.

Professor Ma is distinguished for her contributions to our understanding of both plant immunity and microbial pathogenesis and her reputation as a leader in the field of plant-microbe interactions. She is currently Professor of Plant Pathology in the Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology at the University of California, Riverside.  Professor Ma uses the study of effector proteins– which are delivered by pathogenic microbes into host plant tissue during infection –to understand the mechanisms by which pathogens overwhelm their hosts to cause disease.

Professor Ma works on two major pathogen systems. First of all, she studies Phytophthora, an oomycete pathogen that causes a wide range of diseases, including late blight of potato and sudden oak death.  Late blight of potato is a devastating disease globally and remains one of the most serious crop diseases in the UK. Another focus of her research is Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, the bacterium responsible for citrus Huanglongbing (HLB) disease, also known as citrus greening. This devastating disease is the major threat of citrus production across the world. Professor Ma will be establishing exciting new research programmes in both of these host-pathogen systems at the Sainsbury Laboratory.

Professor Nick Talbot, Executive Director of TSL, said “We are hugely excited that Wenbo Ma will be joining us at TSL. She brings cutting-edge expertise in bacterial pathogenesis and effector biology as well as brand new skills in the manipulation of RNA silencing in plants by pathogens. Importantly, Wenbo also shares common research interests with existing groups at TSL in understanding how pathogens use effectors to manipulate plant immunity. I am particularly impressed by the blend of discovery science and strategic research in Wenbo’s research portfolio. She has been uncovering key concepts in plant-microbe interactions, while at the same time tackling some of the world’s most important diseases, such as citrus greening. Professor Ma is also an excellent mentor of early career scientists and an active contributor to community resources. These are qualities that are consistent with the values and mission of TSL.”

Speaking about her move to The Sainsbury Laboratory, Professor Ma said “It is my great honour to be joining TSL. Throughout my career, I have been inspired by the ground-breaking discoveries made by TSL scientists. Having the opportunity to work with this elite group of colleagues is truly a privilege. I look forward to making my own contributions to continue the prestige of TSL as the world-leading institute in the research field of molecular plant-microbe interactions.”

The Sainsbury Laboratory was established in 1987 and is an independent research institute, funded as a partnership between The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, The University of East Anglia and the BBSRC.  TSL employs around 100 staff and students and is committed to the study of plant-microbe interactions.  Among many discoveries made at TSL, the institute is best known for its identification and characterisation of plant immune receptors and the mechanism of RNA-mediated gene silencing in plants.  These discoveries have led to new strategies to control plant diseases, including novel disease resistance genes, as well as new medicines for human healthcare.

Professor Talbot commented “I am really excited that a new chapter in the history of TSL, is opening with the appointment of Wenbo Ma and it is fitting too that it is happening in the International Year of Plant Health 2020”.

The year of activities, sponsored by the United Nations, is designed to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development.

Prof. Wenbo Ma

Professor Wenbo Ma will join TSL as a Senior Group Leader in July 2020