Doctoral student in plant pathology receives NSF research grant

April 13, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Emma Rosenthal, a doctoral student in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, will be able to advance her research interests in plant pathology after receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited institutions in the United States. Of the 12,000 applicants, only 2,000 were accepted for awards, and Rosenthal was the sole recipient this year from the college.

"Emma worked extremely hard on this proposal, and her understanding of her personal goals and aspirations were clarified by writing this project," said Carolee Bull, head of the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology. "From start to finish, she put in the effort needed, and it paid off. I am delighted for her."

The funding will support Rosenthal's research in the Bull lab, focusing on bacterial leaf spot, a disease that infects lettuce plants. Though the disease is sporadic, when it occurs it can be devastating for growers, and a suitable control method has yet to be developed.

Rosenthal is investigating ways that the bacterium interacts with the plant on a molecular level, resulting in either the development of disease or the resistance of the plant. Studying the mechanisms through which the bacterium causes disease may lead to the development of new, disease-resistant lettuce lines.

She also is looking to develop a molecular identification method that will allow farmers and plant clinicians to rapidly identify the pathogen from infected tissue, or even from seed prior to distribution, in order to prevent epidemics when disease outbreaks do occur.

"This knowledge will benefit society through its application for plant disease prevention and management, protecting agricultural industries and improving food security," Rosenthal said.

In addition to her research, Rosenthal is co-chair of a strategic planning group at Penn State for outreach to Latino agriculturalists in Pennsylvania, which is one of the largest demographic groups represented in agricultural labor and is growing at a steady rate.

As part of this planning team, she works with faculty and graduate students in the College of Agricultural Sciences to strategize Penn State's engagement with the Hispanic agricultural community. The objective is to bring science-based agricultural training programs and existing outreach efforts into a unified plan that addresses the needs of Latino farmers and farm workers in Pennsylvania.

Rosenthal's future goal is to lead a research team that studies bacterial plant pathogens and incorporates tools of many different disciplines, such as taxonomy, bioinformatics and molecular biology. She believes the collaborative and interdisciplinary experiences afforded by Penn State are positioning her to accomplish that dream.

"When searching for graduate schools, I was looking for a university with a robust agricultural science program, a spirit of collaboration, and mutual support among its members," Rosenthal said. "As a land-grant institution with historic ties to agriculture, Penn State was my obvious choice. The faculty and my peers have been endlessly supportive of my studies, research and professional development."

With their continued support, she intends to take full advantage of the opportunities that NSF provides to expand upon her research and outreach goals. "I am thrilled to have received this honor and recognize it is a great achievement for any early career scientist," she said.

Rosenthal was enrolled in the NSF Graduate Fellowship Preparation course under the direction of Rama Radhakrishna, assistant dean of graduate education and professor of agricultural and extension education. The course - AEE 597, schedule 3758 -- will be offered Wednesdays during the fall 2018 semester.

Rosenthal also received mentorship from Bull and Bull's long-time colleague, William Head, retired professor at California State University, Monterey Bay, and former director of its undergraduate research opportunity center. Between them, they have mentored numerous successful fellows.

  • Rosenthal

    Emma Rosenthal, a doctoral student in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, has received a grant from the National Science Foundation.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 13, 2018