Plant Pathology Students by Day……. Pathology Investigators by Afternoon!

By Ashley Kroeger

Today May 30th, 2017… the UAB Outpace Team took a field trip…. to the UAB Community Gardens! Just located a mere block or two from the UAB’s campus, our team traveled to put to fruition our investigative and prove our skills of identifying plant pathogens. Our research team was split into four groups assigned designated categories of plants. Group 1 observed: Eggplants, Peppers, and Tomatoes/Potatoes, Group 2 observed: squash, cucumbers, and watermelon. Lastly, Group 3 observed bean leaves. Each group was then given packets specific to their category of origin and common pathogens to be observed within each section. The goal of this trip was to observe viral infections of plants and determine the validity of an actual presence of pathogens.


Figure 1. Photo of UAB Community Garden


Figure 2. Outpace Pathology Research Student looking for observable signs of infection.

Due to the recent temperament of the weather including frequent raining and ample moisture coupled with sunlight served as a pertinent environment for viral pathogenic growth. From a holistic stand-point the physical attributes associated with: viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases often intersect which proved as a slight curveball for pathogenic leaves. The main attributes associated with specifically viral infections are not limited to: wilting, a yellow discoloration of leaves, and often a mosaic appearance on leaf surface. Some plants had been freshly planted with limited presence of any pathogenic cultivation, while others were extremely engulfed with infection.


Figure 3. Squash leaves exhibiting the yellowish appearance to surface, curling, and withering.

After proceeding to collect 4-5 leaves of infected suspect viral pathogens the leaves were examined by utilizing  a “ Adgia Pathology Kit”. The kit operates much like that of the exams utilized for pregnancy. A small cross section approximately the size of your pinky finger-nail tip was placed between a liquid solvent and plastic mesh medium. The leaf’s surface area was completely submerged in the solvent, sealed, and grated utilizing a sharpie to press along the outside surface of the mesh. The effect of this mimics grinding leaf tissue utilized for serial dilutions of pathogens. The breaking down of leaf tissue into the solvent allowed for the release of any pathogenic microbes to be brought to surface. After prolonged scraping of leave tissue, an opaque green color was observed in the medium. An immune strip was then submerged into the liquid of extracted leaf tissue. As the strip absorbed the solution, line indicators would be observed to firstly tell validity of test, and secondly verify to correct pathogen to test.


Figure 4. Technique of leaf extraction.


Figure 5. Test strip negative results for pathogen.

As previously staged analogy, the test operate as follows. If one red line was observed, the test was often valid for operation. The presence of double lines indicated a valid test, and a positive match of exam to pathogen. Although none of our samples derived a positive match, we did indicate the presence of transgenic crops!

This testing method seems to be observably the fastest for a presence of a pathogen, but you are not always concluded a complete 100% match. The trip was an overall success and I believe I am now more versed to the presence of viral infections within the phenotype exhibited by plants.


Figure 6. Summer 2017 Outpace Plant Pathology Research Team.


Fungi and Oomycetes

By Marissa Brasher

This week in OUTPACE we discusses two distinct types of phytopathogenic attackers, Fungi and Oomycetes. Fungi are the most common plant pathogens with a total of 100,000 fungal species, 300 of these species have been linked to disease in animals while approximately 8,000 species attack plants. Molds and yeasts are widely distributed in the air, dust, fomites, and normal flora aiding the distribution of these infectious agents.  Upon infection, plants appear off-color or yellow, and may be weaker or show signs of wilting. There are three different fungal life styles on plant hosts: biotrophic, hemi-biotrophic/necrotrophic, and endophyte. While biotrophic and hemi-biotrophic/ necrotrophic life styles will eventually kill their host, endophytes live symbiotically with their hosts.

Plants present both primary and secondary defense responses to pathogen infections. Their primary defense is structural, this includes their cuticles, cell walls, suberin layers, and seed coat. Their secondary defense responders are hormonal. Biotrophic plants secrete Salicylic Acid as their defense while Necrotrophs secrete Jasmonates. Fungal pathogens have evolved around these physical barriers through natural openings such as the stomata, wounds, and insect vectors. Some species of fungal pathogens contain a structure called appressoria which is understood to be important the penetration of the plant’s surface. Some appressorias are melanized. Melanized appressoria power penetration by building enormous turgor pressure, the pressure forces the penetration peg through the leaf. The penetration peg grows into a haustorium, which are specialized for nutrient and signal exchange.

Our second lecture this week focuses on Oomycetes. Oomycetes has been previously classified under Fungi, they liken in morphology and physiology but are phylogenetically unrelated. Oomycetes have now been classified in Chromista, there are approximately 500-800 known species. Unlike fungi, their cell walls lack chitin, instead they consist of glucans and cellulose. Their hyphae have no cross walls (septae) and can reproduce asexually or sexually. Asexual reproduction is carried out through zoospores to preserve their genomes. Zoospores have two types of flagella, anteriorly directed is the tinsel type, posteriorly directed is the whiplash type. Sexual reproduction is carried out through a resting spore, an oospore.  Oomycetes are found in water and soil, they can be saprobic on both dead plants and animals. Oomycetes infections can cause downy mildews.

Some are considered deadly plant pathogens. For example, one of the most infamous oomycetes species is Phytophthora infestans, which translates to plant destroyer. This pathogen is responsible for none other than Ireland’s Great Famine of the 1840’s. Phytophthora infestans caused an outbreak in potato late blight, unaware of the pathogen, farmers lost almost all of their potato crops for years causing mass starvation and emigration. Another infamous oomycetes species is Phytophthora ramorum which can cause Foliar Blight or Sudden Oak Death (SOD).  In non-oak hosts the pathogen causes Foliar Blight; however, in oak hosts the pathogen causes Sudden Oak Death. S.O.D. affects mostly true oaks and tanoaks in the United States.

We also conducted a fungal infection on Arabidopsis using the pathogen Botrytis cinerea. Fungal spores were mixed with potato dextrose to later infect the Arabidopsis. We used two strains of Arabidopsis for infection, Col-0, the wild type, and Pad2. Col-0 is more resistant to infection than Pad2. 6 leaves were separated from each strain and taken downstairs for infection. A pipette was then used to deliver 20 microliters of the spore solution on top of the leaves. The leaves were stored downstairs after infection.


After a few days, we received our infected leaves to quantify the disease severity on the Arabidopsis. Lesions may develop upon infection, leaves may also appear discolored and shriveled. Below is a comparison of the Arabidopsis leaves prior and post infection.

Image-2             Image-1

Before infection                                                      After infection

We expressed the disease severity in the two strains into charts. Below are some photos of the classroom’s data.


For example, my chart in the middle of the bottom row proves that my Col-0 strain was more resistant than Pad2. The Pad2 strain infection overall produced mostly yellow leaves which shows more disease severity than a light green or gray color. These results conclude our discussions on Fungi and Oomycetes.

The Game is on!

By Kristin Nicole Telford

In this week’s lecture, we learned about the immunity response that occurs in plants in response to a phytopathogenic bacterium. This interaction between plant and pathogen is represented through a zig-zag model. First, a pathogen is recognized by a plant. This recognition triggers Pattern-Triggered immunity (PTI) which then leads to an increased amount of defense for the plant. However, the pathogen has the ability to produce effectors that enhance the virulence of the pathogen by suppressing the plant’s immune response or contributing to the pathogen’s ability to be successful. Once the effectors suppress the defense response of the plant, the plant is now more susceptible to getting sick because its defense response has been lowered. Luckily, some plants have special proteins that allow them to recognize the effector. This recognition will then trigger Effector-Triggered Immunity (ETI) within the plant. ETI acts as the strongest defense response within a plant.

To better understand the process of the immunity response that occurs within plants, we played a game called veggie vaders. This game was played between two people with one person acting as the plant and the other person acting as the pathogen. The person acting as the plant would randomly draw from a stack of cards for plants only, and the person acting as the pathogen would randomly draw from a stack of cards for pathogens only. Because plants have two lines of defense, PTI and ETI, the game was essentially separated into two stages. During the first stage the plant would place down their randomly drawn cards onto the board. Following this, the pathogen would place down their randomly drawn cards. If the pathogen placed down two different cards that directly matched two different plant cards, then the pathogen received points during the first stage. If the pathogen cards did not directly match any of the plant cards, then the plant received points for the first stage. During the second stage the plant placed down another set of randomly drawn cards and then the pathogen placed down another set of randomly drawn cards onto the board. This second stage represented the ETI (effector-triggered immunity stage). If the plant recognized (directly matched) at least one effector placed down by the pathogen, then the plant would win the game through ETI despite what may have occurred during the first stage of the game because ETI is the strongest level of defense for plants. If the plant did not recognize any of the effectors placed down by the pathogen, then the pathogen wins the game. The games played during class were very intense considering some really good candy choices were our prizes and the winner was allowed to choose first. The winner of the game was Travoris Cameron.

Although this game was purely for fun, it did a great job of showing how the plant immunity response really works. There are many effectors produced by pathogens, so it is a game of chance even in the natural environment. If the plant does not have the special protein necessary to produce and effector-triggered response to increase its defense response it is likely that the plant will die.

Pseudomonas Infection

By Emily Stewart


Healthy arabidopsis plants

This week in lectures we disccussed plants immune response to various pathogens, focusing mainly on bacteria. Pseudomonas syringae is a hemibiotrophic bacteria, so when it infects a plant, the plants follows biorophic immune pathways and will activate the hypersensitive response causing localized cell death. After the bacteria has multiplied to a certain concentration within the plant, it switches to necrotrophic pathways, where the cell death from the biotrophic pathways helps the infection progress.

In the first lab this week, we infected four week old Arabidopsis thaliana plants with Pseudomonas syringae. The technique is important for this procedure so we practiced on used Arabidopsis plants with water before innoculating the plants that were used for the experiment. We used needleless 1ml syringes to force a magnesium chloride solution containing the Pseudomonas syringae (from cultures made the previous week) into the stomata on the underside of the fourth and fifth leaves of the plants. The plants were then covered and put in a growth room for two days.

IMG_3146 (3)                  IMG_3148 (3)

Innoculating Arabidopsis thaliana                      Innoculated plants in the growth room

In the second lab, we obtained samples from the infected leaves and made bacterial cultures from them. To untrained eyes it was hard to identify the infected leaves, so it was fortunate that we had marked them before hand. After homogenizing tissue from each plant and magnesium chloride solution, we made six 10x serial dilutions. We then dropped 20µl of each dilution onto a KB-Strep plate. After incubating for two days, we were able to count individual colonies in some of the dilutions. Using the number of colonies in a spot on the plate, we can approximate how much bacteria is present in the plants.

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Homogenized tissue samples                                               Serial dilutions

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Bacterial culture plate

All of the infections were pretty successful. Most of the infected leaves showed a pseudomonas syringae growth logarithm between 1.E+06 and 1.E+07. Two peoples plants showed slightly less bacterial growth than the others and had a growth logartithm slightly less than 1.E+06 and one person’s plants showed a growth factor a bit higher than 1.E+07.


Veni Vidi Vici: We learned, we infected, we counted

By Sarah Coffee

We have begun to work with arabidobsis thaliana! But first, we learned about how plant infection works.

There are only eight genera of bacteria that infect plants. In our case, we infected the poor plants with pseudomonas syringae. We learned in lecture how bacteria usually enter through open wounds or natural openings in the plant, such as the stomata. To help the bacteria out, we used flat headed syringes to physically push the serum containing bacteria into the leaf stomata. We chose (and marked) two leaves on each plant that were not too old and not too young, and flipped them over and injected. If injected slowly enough and the right way the leaf will darken as it absorbs the serum. This is a delicate art in itself, so we tried (and failed) with normal water first.

Once they were infected we placed them in the plant room to allow the pseudomonas to grow for a few days. Bacteria thrive in warm and moist conditions. While the bacteria grew, the plant began its defenses, represented with the Zig-Zag Model. It starts with PTI, or Pattern-Triggered Immunity. This is where the plant uses its PRRs (Pattern Recognition Receptors) which are normally leucine rich, repeat receptor kinases. These structures recognize highly conserved elements of the bacterial genome, such as a section of the flagellum that all bacteria have. These PAMPs, or pathogen associated molecular patterns, activate the plant defenses through PTI. However, the bacteria will then release effectors that turn off PTI, resulting in Effector-Triggered Susceptibility. The plant fights back using Effector-Triggered Immunity (ETI), where the plant may recognize some of the pathogens receptors. This game of cat and mouse can go either way, with both parties constantly evolving. Something as simple as environmental conditions may sway the outcome of plant vs pathogen!

The following Thursday we retrieved our plants and began cutting out small circles from the leaves that were infected. (pic1-pic3) Besides having been marked, infected leaves could be determined from the yellowing of the leaves, marking spots where the plant had fought back against the bacterium.

Figure 1-3.

In lecture we learned about biotrophs and necrotrophs which all use different methods of infection. The bacterium we used today, pseudomonas syringae, is a biotroph. This means that the plant will respond with the stress salicylic acid; if it were a necrotroph it would use jasmonic acid. Crosstalk between the hormones prevents both from being activated at the same time; if faced with a choice between the two, the plant will produce Salicylic acid defenses. Salicylic acid triggers the Hypersensitive Response (HR) that results in the production of ROS (among other compounds). The ultimate result is that the plant undergoes necrosis of its infected cells in order to quarantine the bacteria to those few spots; this is what causes the yellow spots we see on the leaf. While this plant looks sick, it is still alive and fighting back.

Once we cut out our pieces we put them in grinding tubes and sent them to the homogenizer. (Pic 4) We then made several dilutions of this bacterial solution and placed these onto agar plates (pic5 and pic6).We diluted so that at some level the pseudomonas would be in individual colonies, making it easier to count with the naked eye.


Figure 4.


Figure 5.

pic6Figure 6.

Where did we get these plates? Well we made them ourselves in Lab #2! We split up into four groups with different medium recipes: YPD (modified), V8,YDC (modified), and KB solid medium. After mixing all the ingredients together, we autoclaved the solutions. We then cooled them, stirred them, and voila! They were ready to pour out onto the plates. After about an hour the plates were ready to bag and store for the next lab!

Back to bacteria: the following Tuesday we counted up our colonies. (pic7) Using the dilution number, we figured out how many bacteria had successfully grown inside our plants. All of us had very sick plants!


Figure 7.

2017 OUTPACE Started!

By Jun Hi Chang

OUTPACE 2017 kicked off with a basic overview lecture of plant pathogens covering:

  • A brief history of plant pathology
  • The interactions that result in plant disease
  • Strategies of plant pathogenicity (how the invaders attack the plant)
  • Different types of pathogens

We first learned that the modern study of plant pathology was kicked off as a result of a terrible tragedy – the Irish Potato Famine of 1845. When a previously unobserved bacteria Phytophthora infestans devastated the genetically very similar (and thus possessing no genetic immunity) potato crops and led to 25% of Ireland’s population being killed, many talented people began studying the potential causes and cures for the potato blight.

One such man was Miles Joseph Berkeley, who in 1846 noticed the sickly black mold on the potato plants, and surmised that the mold was the causality agent of the disease, rather than an effect. In 1863 Anton de Bary took this idea a step further and showed that the bacteria Phytophthora was the cause of potato blight: De Bary transferred spores of the sickly mold from a diseased plant to a healthy plant, and observed that the healthy plant developed the same disease as the original sickly plant. He also directly observed the spores landing and attacking the host plant on a microscopic scale.

The rest of plant pathology research in the 1800s centered on identifying other causal agents of plant disease: experiments in the 1850s demonstrated nematodes as potential harmful parasites, T. J. Burrill and others showed that bacteria were other chief plant pathogens, and finally, Dmitry Ivanovsky identified a virus as the infectious agent in tobacco mosaic. By the end of the 19th century, humanity had a solid understanding of the causes of many plant diseases, and could turn its attention to the prevention of these diseases in the 20th century.

After understanding the history of plant pathology, we learned about the three basic interactions necessary for a pathogen to successfully cause disease in a plant host. Three variables are involved in any pathogen attack: the pathogen itself, the host, and the environment. For a pathogen to succeed in its attack and cause infection, the pathogen must first overcome the host plant’s natural defenses, the host plant must be susceptible to the pathogen, and the environmental conditions in which the attack occurs must be favorable for the pathogen while being disfavored to the defender. Pathogens can increase the chance of a successful attack by possessing favorable genes for evasion, survival, and propagation, as well as simply being great in number. Potential pitfalls that make a host more vulnerable include being in initial poor health and possessing few to no disease resistant genes (such as the population of potatoes in Ireland in 1845).  Environmental agents such as temperature, precipitation, nutrient content of soil, and other organisms’ presence may tip the balance in either way.

Next followed a discussion on strategies of pathogenicy: what must a pathogen do to actually attack into the host? Dr. Mukhtar’s Lecture 1 ppt. page 17 gives us the following requirements:

  • Find the host and attach to it physically
  • Gain entry through plant’s impermeable defenses
  • Avoid the plant’s defense responses
  • Grow and reproduce
  • Spread to other plants (or other parts of the same plant organism_

A chief part to the plant pathogen’s plan is getting past the physical barrier of the plant: how will the attacker actually access the target invasion location? Fungal pathogens use the appressorium to pierce the plant cell wall or use chemical warfare (enzymes) to digest the wall through to gain access. Other bacterial pathogens may use preexisting openings in a plant host (such as the stomata or hydathodes) to enter the plant without much resistance.

Understanding how the invasion process works, the final point of the first lecture was on the three categories that pathogens may fit in: biotropes, necrotropes, and hemibiotropes. Necrotropic pathogens immediately kill the cells that they attack and consume the nutrients from the dead cell carcasses, while biotropes keep the host cells alive and suck nutrients from its host. Hemibiotrophs have the ability to switch between biotrope and necrotrope mode – they can pretend to be in harmony with the host while being ready to flip the kill switch should the moment arise.

The second part of the kickoff week for OUTPACE 2017 consisted of review (or learning) some basic microbiology techniques. The first lab consisted of learning how to propagate bacteria and isolate single colonies. The primary technique involved in this exercise was bacterial streaking, a simple “diffusion” process to spread thin a collection of bacteria to form a location where single colonies of the bacteria can be harvested. Streaking techniques were performed in two agar plates rich in nutrients as well as two tilted agar test tubes. A simple liquid medium for bacteria propagation was also obtained.

For the two agar plates, T-Streak technique was used. The necessary gear for the T-Streak was a preexisting culture of the target bacteria, an inoculation loop, the medium in which the bacterial will be propagated (the agar plates), and a lit Bunsen burner for sterilization.

The process for the T-Streak is as follows:

  1. Purify the inoculation loop by passing it through flame.
    1. Let the loop cool down 20 seconds after it exist the flame. Do this every time you sterilize the loop.
  2. Dip the loop in the preexisting culture of bacteria.
  3. Take the loop full of bacteria and touch the tip of an agar plate (on the circumference of the circle). Make a zigzag motion perpendicular to the radius line from the tip of the circumference as to cover about 20% of the whole agar plate with the bacteria.
  4. Sterilize the inoculation loop through fire again as to remove all bacteria from it
    1. Again, cool down 20 seconds.
  5. Go to a corner of the first bacterial spread zone on the agar plate. Using approximately 25% of the surface area of the first streak, make a zigzag motion perpendicular to the original streaking as to cover another 20% of the whole agar plate with a small percentage of the original streak’s bacteria. This procedure “diffuses” bacteria concentration.
  6. Sterilize one more time.
    1. Cool down one more time.
  7. Go to a corner of the second bacterial spread zone on the agar plate. Using approximately 25% of the surface area of the second streak, make a zigzag motion perpendicular to the second streaking as to cover another 20% of the whole agar plate with a small percentage of the second streak’s bacteria. This procedure “diffuses” bacteria concentration even more.
  8. Yet again, sterilize.
    1. Yet again, cool down.
  9. Go to a corner of the third bacterial zone and make a zigzag motion perpendicular to the previous zone’s markings, but this time, don’t take your inoculation tool off until you cover the rest of the unmarked area on the agar plate. This process will allow you to find single colonies growing in this particular zone after incubation.
  10. Depending on what bacteria you wish to culture, incubate the agar plate in the correct temperature/condition necessary for bacteria propagation.

Figure 1. The Inocuation Loop.Figure 1. The inoculation loop.

Figure 2. The Inocuation loop being sanitized by fire.Figure 2. The Inoculation loop being sanitized by fire. This was done repeatedly during the experiment to eliminate any leftover bacteria as well as to sanitize the loop.

A simplified process was recorded for the tilted agar test tubes. For one of the agar test tubes, the purified-then-bacteria-contaminated inoculation tool was placed at the bottom of the test tube and dragged around in a zigzag motion as to spread the entire test tube’s surface area with bacteria. For the other test tube, the inoculation tool was placed at the bottom of the test tube and dragged straight up in one linear motion.

A final process was performed for the liquid medium, where the pufiried-then-bacteria-contaminated tool was simply sloshed around in the liquid medium.

After two days, the resultant bacteria propagation looked like so:

FIgure 3. One of the T-Streaked agar plates.Figure 3. One of the T-Streaked agar plates. The student may have had too much bacteria on the loop for the first part, since the first, second, and third zigzag swipes look almost identical.

Figure 4. The zigzag-streaked test tube.Figure 4. The zigzag-streaked test tube. Notice that the entire surface area of the agar is taken up by the bacteria.

Figure 5. The straight-streaked test tube.;Figure 5. The straight-streaked test tube. The straight-streaking is very apparent.


Figure 6. The Liquid MediumFigure 6. The liquid medium with the bacteria supercolony free floating.

Meet the 2016 OUTPACE Participants!

Gita Annam

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Hey! I am from San Jose, CA and I am currently a junior at UAB.  I am majoring in Biology and minoring in Spanish.  I plan on going to physician assistant (PA) school after I graduate and hopefully start working soon after that.  When I am not stressing out about school during the year I love painting or drawing or pretty much doing anything arts and crafts related.  I also love watching TV shows and movies.  I love nature as well and that is why I extremely excited about the outpace program.  I cannot wait to work with plants and learn about them.  Through this course I also hope to gain research skills that I can apply later on in the future.


Jeanju Lee

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I am a pre-dental, Biology student with minors in Chemistry and French, and I will be attending my third year at UAB in the upcoming semester. I am originally from South Korea, but I have lived in Birmingham for more than half of my life now. As a result, I am bilingual with South Korean and English under my belt, and hopefully I can become trilingual with French! I have tried most arts and crafts activities to do with string including (but not limited to) cross-stitching, crocheting, making gimp bracelets, and friendship bracelets. As a Biology major, I think it is important to participate in research as well as experience as many fields in Biology as I can before I graduate. Through OUTPACE, I would like to broaden my horizons and spend my summer meaningfully, and come out with a new perspective about the plant-life around me.



Katrina Sahawneh

katrine outpace16.jpgI am a senior Biology major and Art Studio minor at UAB. I have always loved plants, and drawing flowers is what first got me interested in biology. UAB is a really good school, and because its emphasis is on the medical field, the classes emphasize the animal/medical side of everything. So I loved the rare chance to learn more about plants in Dr. Mukhtar’s Plant Biology course last spring, and I hope to learn even more about plants and their pathogens during OUTPACE, and put into practice the ideas I’ve been learning about.



Lana Sobol

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I am a student here at UAB majoring in Art and minoring in Chemistry. My goal is to go on to medical school and become a surgeon. In addition to my love for art and science I am very passionate about ballroom dancing. I am currently training to become a ballroom dance instructor at Champion Latin & Ballroom Studio. I believe that the OUTPACE program will allow me to learn new research techniques and teach more about about plant immune systems and pathogens. All in all, I hope this program will fulfill my research and art endeavors, as I am very inspired by plants and love to draw them.



Kaval Patel
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I am a sophomore at UAB majoring in Neuroscience. I was born in India and moved here in the 6th grade. I joined outpace to broaden my understanding of plants and their diseases. I think that plant biology is an under appreciated field that is vital to our society. By doing OUTPACE, I hope to gain a deeper knowledge and appreciation for plant pathology. Fun fact: I once spilled 12M HCl on my ungloved hands…





Kimberly Grace

kimberly grace.jpegHello!  I am currently double majoring in Biology and Applied Mathematics with a minor in Environmental Science at UAB.  I am extremely interested in the environment, and am excited to learn how plants react to to pathogens.  Learning this will help me understand a piece in a giant network of living organisms.





Sara Langston

sara l.jpgHey guys! My name is Sara Langston and I’m a senior at here at UAB. I’m majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry. My career goal is to attend dental school at UAB and then to specialize in orthodontics. I hope that I’ll gain more confidence using lab equipment, and knowledge on procedures, as well as getting to know my fellow UAB classmates!







Alex McArdle

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My name is Alex McArdle and I am a neuroscience and anthropology student here at UAB. I really enjoy traveling, and spend most of my free time outside hiking. My absolute favorite place to be is the tropical rainforest. I’ve been fortunate enough to explore the Peruvian Amazon and various rainforests of Costa Rica. These experiences have peaked my interests in plants and ethnobotany. Since OUTPACE offers unique hands on research with plants, I was eager to be a part of it. I hope that it will help me achieve a greater understanding of the scientific study of plants and the lab techniques that come along with it. I am very excited for the rest of the program!


Karl Pruitt

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 2.31.37 PM.pngHello everyone my name is Karl Anthony Pruitt Jr. I am a sophomore at Lawson State Community College. I am a biology Pre-Med major who is aspiring to become an orthopedic spinal surgeon. The world of science excites me and my level of enjoyment for any and everything science related has no limits.  I love the farm life trucks, tractors, and everything that comes with it.  Through this program, I hope to gain a more in-depth grasp of the world of science and gain the necessary tools that will prepare for my future road ahead moving towards becoming an orthopedic spinal surgeon.




Mini Review Discussion

Today we had an in class discussion/presentation that our OUTPACEr’s conducted! Six questions were asked and each group presented their answer to the question.

#1 A plant can win a season by achieving either ETI or MTI. Biologically speaking, what is happening in a real plant out in a real field with it “wins” against a potential pathogen?


Ryan and Ciara explained how a plant detects a pathogen and what happens after the plant has detected their is a potential danger. They also explained how some defenses that a plant has can lead to immunity from the pathogen.

#2 In light of #1 about, what are 2 underlying mechanisms by which a pathogen can “win”?


Chris and Jonathan explained how pathogens “win” by first invading the plants preformed defenses – including waxy cuticle, or cell wall. Then they explained the second BIG way a pathogen can with is through effector triggered susceptibility (ETS). ETS disables the plants defenses therefore leading the pathogen on it’s way to victory!

#3 If a plant cultivar can detect the presence of a potential pathogen, it is normally resistant to attack by that microbe. What kind of selective pressure does this exert on the pathogen population, and how, specifically, is the pathogen population likely to change in response?

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Jakara drew a picture of what is happening with the plant and pathogen. She showed how it is a constant cycle of pathogen infection and plant resistance. Rajan and Nicole explained how pathogens and plants are consistently mutating in order to win. The selective pressure is to change in order to win.

#4 There is evidence in pathogen genomes that shows the mutation and loss of genes that code for specific effectors. But if effectors are lost, a bacterial pathogen needs to acquire a new effector to suppress the plant’s immune (defense) response. How does this happen?

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Jeremiah and Iba explained the concept of Horizontal Gene Transfer.They showed how genes can be transferred via transposons and explained the process of it.

#5 How do plants acquire a new resistance gene, whose protein product can recognize a new pathogen molecule (such as a new effector)?

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Amir and Andrew explained that this can happen through sexual reproduction, vector mediated gene tranfer, cross pollination, microprojectile gene transfer, and in agriculture via plant breeders.

#6 In terms of evolution, how is a farmer’s field different from the natural world, and how might that affect pathogen evolution?

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Jess and Ashley explained that a farmer’s field is different in many ways. They explained that the field is predictable and the concept of “boom and bust.” They also explained how farmers plant their crops in a monoculture leading to all plants in the area having the same genetic makeup, which is not like in the natural world.

First Trip to UAB Community Gardens by Johnathan Mitchell

On Thursday, May 7, we took our first trip To the UAB Community Gardens. I never knew UAB had community gardens for students or faculty until now! At first glance of the syllabus, I was expecting us to travel to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens instead of right behind the soccer fields. Nonetheless, I was very impressed with the UAB Community Gardens upon arrival.


We were first greeted by a faculty member, Ms. Bambi Ingram, who is the UAB Sustainability Program Administrator. Ms. Bambi met us at the gardens and told us a little about her background and job at the gardens. After that, we were free to roam a little before we gathered back together for the all access Mukhtar Garden Tour. Dr. Mukhtar showed us different plants, and how some of them contained special characteristics black tomatoes. It was interesting to learn that tomatoes with a darker color are actually healthier for you. Also, we learned that marigolds were planted in plots to serve as an insect repellent. Dr. Mukhtar also explained to us that some growers liked the idea of poring on plant leaves to deter bugs from chewing on them. Throughout the garden tour Dr. Mukhtar kept pointing out interesting facts unique to each plant while showing plant diseases that were present in some. One misconception I had coming into the OUTPACE Program was that moisture and rain were very beneficial to plants but I learned that pathogens spread the best under those conditions. Another misconception I previously thought was that purple leaves were signs of a sick plant. However, the purple pigment is actually due to a pigment in the leaf called anthocyanin that gives the plants their red/purple color. It is not a sign that the plants are sick, and the pigment does relatively nothing to the plant other than the obvious difference in color. We also learned from Dr. Mukhtars post-doctoral student, Camilla Koerner, interesting facts about a chinese potato that was growing in the garden. This particular potato doesn’t need to be sustained and after harvest it will grown again on it’s on the next year! 20150507_104249

Also at the gardens we learned about an organization called The Leaf for Life Project. We met with Ms. Amy Badham, MPH, who is the Instructor of Health Care Organization and Policy at the UAB School of Public Health. She explained that The Leaf for Life Project helps people improve their diets through by the process of growing and cultivating their own vegetables with materials donated from the organization. I was very impressed to hear about this organization, because it is self sustaining and doesn’t need constant donations. Once the plot in the UAB community gardens is started the people who are in need of better diets are able to maintain their own vegetables. Members in the organization also give the people they help out the knowledge it takes to keep their vegetables growing.

The trip to the UAB Community Gardens was a great experience and I look forward to going back next week. We all got a laugh at the poorly engineered irrigation apparatus at the back of the gardens that seemed to collect more leaves than water. Although it was 100 degrees outside I really enjoyed the first trip to the gardens and I hope to learn more about plant pathology and gardening throughout the summer!


Meet the 2015 OUTPACE Team!

JaKara Brown

Jakara Brown

I am a native of Mobile, AL but I currently attend UAB. I am a senior Biology/pre-med major here with minors in Chemistry and Psychology. A fun fact about me is that I have a twin sister who attends Troy University. I hope to gain greater knowledge as it pertains to research, specifically plant research. I believe that the OUTPACE Program will assist me in attaining this knowledge.

Nicole Lassiter

Nicole Lassiter

Nicole is a pre-medicine student whose majors are English and Spanish. She plans to practice medicine and author stories and poetry in both languages. Her many interests include music, culture, traveling, and learning. One fun fact about her is she loves to make snow angels whenever the opportunity presents itself. By participating in OUTPACE, she hopes to gain experience in research, practice communicating scientific ideas to others, collaborate with fellow scientists, and make lasting contributions to her community.

Rajan Patel

Rajan Patel

My name is Rajan Patel and I am a senior biology major and chemistry minor at UAB. After I graduate, I plan to become a genetic counselor. I like to play around with new technology and fix computers as a side business. A fun fact is that I like to draw and create different types of art in my free time and plan to get a telescope soon so I can stargaze. I hope to achieve a better understanding about how plant pathology works and maybe someday it will help me with my own garden in the future.

Ryan Tillman

Ryan Tillman

My name is Ryan Tillman, I am from Lillian, Alabama, and I am a Sophomore at UAB. I am majoring in molecular biology, and plan on a career in either genetics or pathology after college. In my free time I like to cook and watch movies. By being part of the OUTPACE program, I hope to gain a better understanding of pathogens and the immune defenses of plants.

Andrew Sunwood

Andrew Sunwood

Hi! My name is Andrew Sunwood and I’m a sophomore Biology major at UAB.  I love music, playing soccer, and doing really random things (see fun fact below).  By participating in the OUTPACE program, I hope to learn more about plants – as of now, I only know how to eat them. Fun Fact: I can fold a shirt in 2 seconds.

Ciara Duncan

Ciara Duncan

My name is Ciara Duncan and I’m a senior at UAB majoring in Biology. I joined the Outpace program to learn more about the plant kingdom and how they interact with and fight off pathogens as well as to gain valuable knowledge in a research lab setting.

Ashley Bridgmon

Ashley Bridgmon

My name is Ashley Bridgmon. I am a senior at UAB majoring in biology, with minors in chemistry, psychology, and Spanish. While studying in this program, I look forward to learning new lab techniques while also putting to use what I already know. I am also eager to learn more about the different types of plant pathogens, and how they affect plants differently.

Johnathan Mitchell

Johnathan Mitchell

My name is Johnathan Mitchell and I am currently a Junior Biology Major at UAB. I am from Huntsville, AL and attended Bob Jones High School. I plan on pursuing an MD/PhD degree upon the completion of receiving my bachelor’s degree in Biology. I hope to learn more about plant pathology, and to see how their response differs from human when fighting off diseases. Fun Fact:I used to play soccer at Marshall University before transferring to UAB.

Iba Iyegha


My name is Iba Iyegha. I’m from Prattville, AL, and I just graduated from UAB with a B.S. degree in Biology. I plan on going to Medical School in 2016. Even though plant pathology doesn’t fall under my chosen career path, I developed a greater appreciation for plants in Dr. Mukhtar’s plant biology course and hope to learn even more about the fascinating topic through hands on experience. Fun fact: I am the 9th of 13 siblings to graduate from college.

Amir Ahmed


My name is Amir Ahmed and I’m a freshman majoring in Biomedical Sciences here at UAB. I’m from Madison, Alabama which is a city where you could drive by a field of cows and a research institute just on the way to school. When I’m not studying, I’m hanging out with my friends or reading. I love to play basketball and soccer.

One fun fact about me is that on my father’s side of the family, they have been fruit growers and sellers for generations and I spend a lot of my summers at our family orchard, where we grow mangoes and citrus fruits.

I hope, through the OUTPACE program, that I can gain a more complete understanding of how diseases attack plants and of how plants fight back against them. I also hope to gain practical experience and become more proficient in my lab skills through the program.

Chris Szlenk


Hello my name is Chris Szlenk, I am a junior/senior studying chemistry with a biochemistry focus. I enjoy spending time outdoors and being active whenever I’m not studying. A fun fact about myself is i am fluent in Polish. I would like to gain a better understanding of plants and how to spot diseases and what can be done to prevent them. Also I’m very interested in learning about the signaling pathways and receptors involved in these processes.

Jess Eddington

jess edding

My name is Jess Eddington, and I’m one of five children born in Birmingham, Al. I played basketball and soccer growing up and was in choir for most of my life. I started working at Chick-fil-A at 16 and worked my way up to opening the 5 Points Inline store as the Operations Manager by 20. Currently, I am a senior at UAB majoring in Chemistry and Psychology while working in Dr. Austad’s lab doing mice and hydra husbandry work. I hope to earn my way into the biology graduate program after I graduate. Through OUTPACE, I hope to gain experience working with plants and become a better gardener. A fun fact about myself is that I am not fun.