Raymond St. Leger; Univ. of Maryland, College Park
Raymond J. St. Leger is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland. St. Leger has published > 200 scientific papers and book chapters on fungal pathogens of plants, animals and insects. St. Leger’s dominating research interest has been directed toward using fungal parasites of insects as models for understanding how pathogens in general respond to changing environments, initiate host invasion, colonize tissues, and counter host immune responses. These investigations have also used highly accurate genome sequences to address the mechanisms by which new pathogens emerge with different host ranges. St. Leger’s laboratory has altered insect pathogens in the genus Metarhizium so that they express genes encoding arthropod toxins or human antibody genes. The potential of these engineered pathogens to control vector borne diseases such as malaria is currently being trialed in Burkina Faso. Other field trials are exploiting functional genomic tools to provide detailed knowledge of the evolutionary potential and invasion ecology of transgenic microbes, and to predict the consequences of different types of human intervention (e.g., habitat fragmentation, climate change, invasive species, and genetically modified introductions). During these studies, Dr. St. Leger demonstrated that several very common insect pathogenic fungi colonize roots and have multiple beneficial effects on plant growth, besides killing insects. These observations have opened the way for using improved strains with customized properties to replace chemical pesticides and fertilizers.