Grant to Support Research on Virus-vector-host Interactions

James Ng

James Ng

James Ng, an associate professor of plant pathology and microbiology at UCR, and two European colleagues have received a research grant from the Human Frontier Science Program (HSFP), an international program of research support.

The competition for the grants was intense: HFSP received 1013 letters of intent and invited only 82 teams to submit full applications. Of these, only 21 proposals involving 67 scientists were awarded.

Ng will work on a project titled “Cellular and biophysical mechanisms of virus-vector interactions mediating disease transmission” with Martin Drucker (INRA, Montpelier France) and Hans Jürgen Butt (Max Planck Institute, Germany).  The project received funding of more than $1 million for three years.

“In the light of changing global climate and increasing demands for food and fiber crop production needed to sustain an ever increasing global population, research of this nature is actually long overdue,” Ng said.  “However, the tripartite relationship among virus, insect vector and host is extraordinarily complex, and therefore requires innovative efforts and ingenuity to tackle.  The fusion of technology and tools from different scientific disciplines can help to address some of the questions on virus-vector-host interactions that have baffled researchers for a long time.  And this is what is unique about this research.”

The collaboration is of paramount importance to the research. The three scientists form a strong cross-disciplinary team that combines strengths in novel cellular (Drucker) and biochemical (Ng) approaches in virus-insect vector-host interactions, as well as cutting-edge technology in investigations on biophysical phenomena (Butt).

Ng explained that viruses that transmit devastating diseases have been negatively impacting plant, animal and human health long before scientists became aware of their existence.

“Substantial gaps in knowledge exist in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the interactions among viruses, insect vectors and plant hosts during the transmission process,” he said.  “These mechanisms play a critical role in determining whether viruses can be acquired and inoculated efficiently by the vector during transmission.”

Ng received his doctoral degree in plant pathology in 2001 from Purdue University. He joined UCR in 2005, where he studies different aspects of the biology and molecular biology of plant viruses, one area of which is how viruses are transmitted by insect vectors to cause disease.  He also uses biotechnology to develop viruses into tools for managing plant diseases. He is an associate editor of Phytopathology and an ad hoc editor of PLoS Pathogens.

The Human Frontier Science Program is implemented by the International Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO) based in Strasbourg, France. Its aims are to promote intercontinental collaboration and training in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research focused on the life sciences.  This year, the program awardd about $35 million to the 31 winning teams of the 2015 competition for the HFSP Research Grants.

HFSP collaborative research grants are given for a broad range of projects under the umbrella theme of “Complex mechanisms of living organisms.”  Particular emphasis is placed on cutting-edge, risky projects.  Two types of research grants are awarded: Young Investigator Grants for teams of scientists who are all within five years of obtaining their first independent position and Program Grants, such as the grant Ng and his colleagues received, which are open to teams of scientists at any stage of their careers.

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