Barbara Blanco-Ulate, UC Davis Plant Sciences, is a Hellman Fellow

Barbara Blanco-Ulate, UC Davis.
New Hellman Fellow, Barbara Blanco-Ulate, UC Davis Plant Sciences, in a field of research tomatoes. (photo Casper van den Abeele)

Barbara Blanco-Ulate, Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis, received a prestigious Hellman Fellowship grant this year for the research project “Epigenomics of Tomato Fruit Susceptibility to Fungal Disease.” Blanco-Ulate’s overall research focuses on the systems biology of fruit ripening, fruit-pathogen interactions, and postharvest quality.

The one-year grants are awarded to early-career faculty members who show academic distinction and potential. It provides extra financial support for their early research and supports them as they become established and progress in their careers.

Barbara Blanco-Ulate, UC Davis
Barbara Blanco-Ulate, UC Davis

As a Hellman Fellow, Blanco-Ulate will oversee a project to study how epigenomic changes that occur during tomato fruit ripening impact susceptibility to fungal disease. Fungal decay caused by pathogens such as Botrytis cinerea (or “gray mold”) is a significant contributor to worldwide food loss, and this research is among the first to explore the role of epigenetic regulation in fruit-pathogen interactions.

“We know that epigenetics controls the turning on and off of genes in different organisms,” said Blanco-Ulate. “In the vegetative parts of plants, we know that responses to diseases can be manipulated by the pathogen via epigenomics, but little has been studied in plant fruits, including tomatoes.”

Christian Silva, a Ph.D. student in Blanco-Ulate’s lab, and in the Plant Biology Graduate Group, will be doing part of this research for his Ph.D. Silva has spent three years with Blanco-Ulate researching various aspects of tomato fruit disease, including how fungal pathogens adapt their infection strategies to the ripening stage of the host. This epigenomics work will build upon his systems-level approach to this field.

A better understanding of how changes in the plant epigenome and their subsequent impact on gene expression relate to host immune responses will open new possibilities for improving plant resistance to diseases and reducing crop losses. Blanco-Ulate’s use of model organisms for fruit development and fungal pathogens allows for this research to have impact beyond tomatoes and B. cinerea.

The Hellman Fellows Fund was established by Warren and Chris Hellman of San Francisco in 1995. Grant funding is competitively awarded to junior faculty in many disciplines at all 10 University of California campuses and four private institutions.

Over 130 UC Davis faculty have received Hellman Fellowships since its inception, including Georgia Drakakaki, an Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, who received a Hellman Fellowship in 2012.

(Article by Ann Filmer, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis; August 8, 2019.)