Herman Receives Dropkin Postdoctoral Fellowship to Study Evolution of Plant-Pathogen Interactions

Jacob Herman

Jacob Herman

PhD candidate in biology Jacob Herman received a V. Dropkin Postdoctoral Fellowship to research the epigenetics of plant response to pathogen infection at the University of Chicago’s Department of Ecology and Evolution.

The V. Dropkin fellowship funds a postdoctoral researcher for up to four years to study the ecology and evolution of plant-pathogen interactions.

Herman will begin the post-doctoral position after completing his dissertation defense this April. His advisor at Wesleyan is Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies.

In Herman’s dissertation research at Wesleyan, he uses a common plant species as a model system to investigate how individual plants adjust their development in response to a variety of environmental stresses.

“Drought stress, in particular, is a critical environmental challenge for plants that is becoming more common in many regions as climates change,” Herman said.

Much of his work examines developmental effects of drought that are inherited by offspring of drought-stressed parents. These effects do not stem from changes in the DNA sequence, but instead appear to result from inherited, drought-induced changes in chemical tags on the DNA called methylation marks. Such changes are known as epigenetic.

“Intriguingly, I found that these heritable, drought-induced changes enhance offspring tolerance of drought stress,” he said.

Read more about Herman’s research at Wesleyan here.

As a postdoc at the University of Chicago, Herman will work with Professor of Ecology and Evolution Joy Bergelson’s research group to study how DNA methylation mediates plant responses to pathogen attack.

“This work is very exciting because it offers the opportunity to make new, fundamental contributions to our understanding of plant-pathogen interactions, and more broadly, to the emerging field of ecological epigenetics,” Herman said.

Herman has already co-authored three journal articles with Sultan while studying at Wesleyan, including “How stable ‘should’ epigenetic modifications be? Insights from adaptive plasticity and bet hedging,” published in Evolution, 2013; “Adaptive transgenerational plasticity in an annual plant: Grandparental and parental drought stress enhance seedling performance in dry soil” published in Integrative and Comparative Biology, 2012 and “Adaptive transgenerational plasticity in plants: case studies, mechanisms, and implications for natural populations” published in Frontiers in Plant Genetics and Genomics, 2011.