The Genetic Transformation of a Plant to enhance its disease resistance characteristics and commercial viability, through green solutions, without the use of chemicals, is not only better for our planet but also for human health.
Balaji Vasudevan, our next pathbreaker, Plant Scientist/Pathologist at GreenLight Biosciences Inc., works in multiple areas in Agri-Biotech, related to Plant Transformation, GMO, Plant Pathology, Gene Editing/Silencing, Molecular biology, Crop Protection.
Balaji talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about being influenced by the concept of Plant Genetic Engineering and Agrobacterium, the natural bacterium that can transfer DNA into plants.
For students, we all know the harmful effects of chemicals and pesticides on crops. You have an opportunity to drive change through innovations in naturally induced plant transformation.
Balaji, tell us about Your background?
I was raised in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. All my education, starting from school to post-graduation was in Chennai. Even in school days, I was more oriented towards science, especially life sciences. I was an average student in Maths and a decent performer in chemistry and life sciences. This made me choose a science group in grade 12 at school. During this time, I recall that my interest in plant science germinated. However, I studied with an aim to get into medical college but did not succeed. Currently, I am in the USA for over 10 years working in an agtech company, GreenLight Biosciences (GLB) located at RTP in North Carolina state. GLB is an RNA company that produces and uses RNA (dsRNA and mRNA) for pharmaceutical and agricultural applications. GLB also works on mRNA vaccine technology to combat Covid-19 virus.
I am not a big fan of extra-curricular activities. I used to play carrom and a little bit of cricket during my leisure times. My Father was in Tamil Nadu state Govt. as sub-registrar of the coop. services and my mother was a homemaker.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
I did BS in Botany and MS in Plant Sciences with specialization in Plant Biotechnology.
I decided to get into plant science for my undergrad studies in DG Vaishnav College, Chennai and continued with a MS in Plant Biotechnology at University of Madras. For my masters, I cleared GATE and CSIR exams which were pre-requisites to get a scholarship. I left for Madurai to do my Ph.D. in Plant Biotechnology at MKU and travelled to Israel and USA for my post-doctoral studies.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
I was influenced by the concept of Plant genetic engineering and Agrobacterium, the natural bacterium that can transfer DNA into plants. A Plant molecular biology course lectured by Dr. Balasubramanian was the major event that helped me to gather my thoughts and instilled confidence to pursue Agtech combined with my interest in plant genetic engineering.
Dr. R. Balasubramanian (MS mentor) – He was my mentor during MS and introduced me to plant biotechnology in the mid-1990s. He showed special interest in me because of my enthusiasm for plant molecular biology and genetic engineering. Those were the days when the World’s first GMO-genetically engineered soybean was developed by Monsanto (American company), now acquired by Bayer (German company) using Agrobacterium/gene-gun. He spotted my interest in Agrobacterium, Plant transformation, molecular biology and advised me to venture deeper in this new field that was making waves globally at that time. My intention to do Ph.D. was further validated by his advice. He showed me the direction to go for a Ph.D. at MKU in Prof. K. Veluthambi’s lab. Both Prof. Balu and Prof. Veluthambi were peers during their post-graduation. Prof. Veluthambi (Ph.D. Supervisor) was one of the best experts in Agrobacterium and plant genetic engineering in India. He was trained by Prof. Stanton B Gelvin, Purdue University, Indiana, USA. Dr. Gelvin is one of the top world-renowned experts in Agrobacterium and genetic engineering. In Dr. Veluthambi’s lab, I learned how to approach science and experiments in a systematic manner and was exposed to cutting edge technologies in plant biotechnology which shaped and laid the foundation for my future career in agtech.
I think the biggest turning points that shaped my agtech career were the “One on One” discussions with Prof. Balasubramanian during my masters and the training I received in Dr. Veluthambi’s lab .
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
After I decided to pursue Ph.D. I approached Prof. Veluthambi and learned that a CSIR pass with National scholarship was critical to get into his lab because of the science reputation and the quality of research that was being done. I had cleared my GATE exam before, which was not quite sufficient for life sciences. I worked hard to clear CSIR and got a nod to pursue my Ph.D. in his lab. This, I consider as my first and crucial break in my agtech journey. I was exposed to international research and had the opportunity to meet internationally reputed scientists at MKU, participate in national scientific conferences/workshops and spent some time in reputed Indian research institutes like IISC and CCMB.
My Ph.D. research was focused on two areas 1) Development of Agrobacterium-mediated transformation system for Black Gram/Urad bean/Vigna Mungo and Green Gram/Mung Bean/Vigna radiata 2) Molecular understanding of Munbean Yellow Mosaic Virus-Vigna (MYMV-Vig) and identification of genes for yellow mosaic disease resistance. Black Gram and Mung Bean are principal pulse/legume crops cultivated in India and are a staple food for Indian population. Black gram/Mung Bean cultivation is seriously threatened by the MYMV-Vig geminivirus causing yellow mosaic disease which can result in crop loss of upto 80%. MYMV-Vig is transmitted by insect whiteflies.
My Doctoral work was focused on developing black gram and mung bean to make them resistant to the yellow mosaic disease using GMO technology by inserting virus genes into plants using Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. I was able to molecularly dissect the virus and understand its genome composition, identify genes from virus and selected genes that can stop the virus from replicating and spreading in plants using tobacco as a model host. I also developed tissue culture system to develop urad and mung bean plants and developed an Agrobacterium system to transfer viral genes into bean plants
After my Ph.D. I applied to many Universities abroad for my post-doctoral studies. Though I got opportunities in the USA and Switzerland, the first one came from Prof. Guido Sessa at Tel Aviv University, Israel. I decided immediately to accept that offer because of cutting edge work in molecular plant-microbe interactions, plant pathology and crop disease resistance that was being done in Dr. Sessa’s lab. Also, Dr. Sessa had done high-quality work in his research career and did his postdoctoral training in Prof. Greg Martin’s lab at Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University (one of the 8 Ivy Leagues in the USA). Dr. Martin is a world-renowned molecular plant pathologist and I had the opportunity to meet him in Israel. Also, I had the opportunity to collaborate with eminent Professors in Germany and USA as part of international collaboration projects. I was also able to travel to many international science congress/conferences. As everyone knows, Israel is a world-leader in agri-tech and known for innovation in science and technology. That was another reason that made me go to Israel.
In Israel, my research was focused on molecular dissection of plant-bacteria interaction and identification of genes in plants that can confer disease resistance. I worked on two important tomato diseases, bacterial stem canker and leaf wilt caused by Clavibacter michiganensis. subsp. michiganensis (Cmm) and leaf spot disease caused by Xanthomonas campestris pv. vesicatoria (Xcv). I used VIGS (virus-induced gene silencing), microarray, SSH and other molecular biology techniques in my research on tomato and tobacco model plant. Some of the outcomes of my research are
- Identified novel genes involved in tomato resistance response to Xcv, by microarray analysis
- One of the first researchers to use Affymetrix tomato chip for any kind of microarray analysis in tomato
- I showed for the very first time that tobacco can serve as model host for Cmm bacterium whose natural host is tomato
- Unveiled the transcriptome changes in tomato during Cmm attack and wilt disease progress
- Identified ethylene as a key signal regulating susceptible response of tomato to Cmm
- Isolated key tomato genes that are involved in Cmm disease resistance
- Standardized Virus-Induced Gene Silencing (VIGS) system in tomato and Nicotiana benthamiana
- Published 4 articles in international journals with high impact factor and citations (Plant Physiology, MPMI, FIG, PSB – 2004 to 2008)
After 4 years of my postdoctoral stint in Israel, I returned to India to take up a lead position in Meta-helix life sciences at Bangalore (now part of TATA/Rallis India) which was possible because of my Ph.D. peer Dr. Vai Ramanathan who was Head of R&D at the company. He was the one who convinced me to return to India and join the company as he was keen on me heading the new research project.
In my first company job at Meta-helix, I worked on developing transgenic tomato, cotton and okra resistant to Tomato Leaf Curl Virus (ToLCV), Cotton Leaf Curl Virus (CLCuV) and Okra Yellow Vein Mosaic Virus (OYVMV), respectively using RNA interference (RNAi). All these 3 viruses belong to the same family of geminivirus that has ssDNA circular genomes. The economic loss in these 3 crops due to above mentioned viruses are huge and a crop loss of 70% to 80% was recorded in India. RNAi is a Noble prize awarded discovery that works well with virus. In simple terms, you take portion of the virus gene (DNA) sequences and insert them into target plants in a hairpin fashion by generating GMO via Agrobacterium-mediated plant transformation. By a plant’s inherent RNAi mechanism, hairpin RNA works against virus by targeting and chopping the pathogen gene messenger and therefore, not allowing the virus to infect, spread and cause disease. RNAi plants will be virus-resistant and disease-free.
After 1 year in India, I decided to go to the USA to pursue other research opportunities to advance my agtech career. My Israel connections helped me secure a postdoctoral position in Dr. Chris Smart’s lab at prestigious Cornell University in New York. It was a bi-national project between Israel and the USA on some of the research work that was initiated earlier in Israel. Two years of stay at Cornell helped me set my foot in the USA and help learn cutting edge technologies and innovations. This also provided an opportunity to meet eminent scientists like Prof. Greg Martin, Prof. Dan Klessig and others at BTI, Cornell University.
My research at Cornell University was focused on “Generation of transgenic tomato resistance to wilt and canker disease caused by a Gram-positive bacterium Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. michiganensis (Cmm) and transgenic grapevine resistance to crown gall disease caused by Agrobacterium vitis”. To my knowledge, it was the very first time that a transgenic tomato containing snakin2 or ELP gene was shown to be resistant to Cmm caused bacteria wilt and canker disease.
Then I moved to Noble Research Institute at Oklahoma and worked in Prof. Kiran Mysore’s lab on my favorite research project (Agrobacterium-plant interaction) in collaboration with Prof. Stan Gelvin, Purdue University, Indiana whom I had met when I was a Ph.D student at MKU, Madurai. Irony here is Dr. Gelvin is the Ph.D. supervisor for Dr. Kiran Mysore and post-doctoral advisor for Dr. K. Veluthambi. So, I was fortunate and had the opportunity to work and interact with the 3 best people in Agrobacterium and genetic engineering. I made a lot of connections in Industry during that time via LinkedIn and conferences.
At Noble Foundation, i worked on “Identification of plant genes involved in Agrobacterium-mediated genetic transformation to improve transformation efficiency of recalcitrant crop plants”. Not all plants can be genetically modified even after 30 years of study because of recalcitrance. Even many genotypes of the same plant species (eg. Soybean, corn etc.) pose significant challenges in making GMOs. Aim of my research was to find ways to overcome this barrier by dissecting the key genes/factors from host plants that are needed to make Agrobacterium transformation amenable and improve efficiency of GMO plant generation.
After 2 years in Dr. In Mysore’s lab, I found an industry job at Cibus in San Diego, California to work on next generation cutting edge technologies, gene editing, which is the current talk of the town and making waves in the biotechnology landscape.
At Cibus, my research was focused on “Development of gene-edited potato resistant/tolerant to devastating late blight disease and to test the effect of allelic variation of target genes on plant defense hormone accumulation and disease resistance to bacteria in Arabidopsis and fungus/oomycete in potato”. Idea was to use gene editing to make specific changes (1 or 2) in a gene in plant DNA (potato) that could make the plant more tolerant or resistant to late blight disease caused by oomycete Phytophthora infestans. This disease is more commonly and popularly referred to as Irish Famine and economically important potato disease. I used model plant Arabidopsis to identify what changes in plant gene can bring about resistance to fungal and bacterial diseases. To this aim, GMO Arabidopsis was generated using Agrobacterium-mediated transformation which in general is a straightforward method. However, the Arabidopsis that we were using was not a normal plant but instead a mutant which was short and more difficult to generate GMO. I used my previous experience in Agrobacterium and modified conditions to develop a system and generated GMO in this short plant. Key changes were identified and then passed on to potato by generating GMO and gene editing. These gene altered potato plants were shown to be resistant to late blight disease.
Next, I moved to RTP in North Carolina which is one of the top 3 agtech hubs in the USA. I always wanted to move to RTP as it is a world-renowned place for agtech and other technologies/ research/ innovations. I made a lot of connections at RTP and NCBC center. During this time, I got super-active in linkedin and established over 15K connections in agtech combined with keeping updated with recent trends, innovations, breakthroughs, industry events and agtech market landscape.
At Edison Agrosciences, I worked on metabolic engineering of sunflower to produce rubber. My project focused on enhancing the plant’s genetic transformation by Agrobacterium, development of an efficient transformation system for sunflower and developing and commercializing innovative solutions to produce plant-based industrial materials, with a primary focus on the development of alternative rubber crops (sunflower).
The US is dependent on imported natural rubber largely from Southeast Asia, which produces over 90% of the world’s supply. The rubber market is valued at over $100 billion annually with natural rubber having a share of about 42% or over $42 billion. Natural rubber has performance characteristics that have not been duplicated by synthetics making it impossible to replace in many applications. Natural rubber is a strategic product in that it is not possible to produce engines or vehicles without it. The rise of the global middle class and their desire for cars and other manufactured goods containing rubber is increasing the demand for rubber even during the recent economic slowdown. In its report on natural rubber, EPOBIO predicts supply will lag demand by 25% in 2020.
The major barriers to increasing natural rubber production sufficiently to meet rising demand are the result of fundamental limitations in the current production system. Commercial natural rubber production employs a single crop species (Hevea brasiliensis, Brazilian Rubber tree) with a restricted growth range due to its strict environmental requirements with respect to temperature and moisture. Key limitations and vulnerabilities for rubber production in South East Asia include: (1) susceptibility to disease caused by South American Leaf Blight, a pathogen that eliminated rubber production in Brazil early in the 20th century and remains a global threat today; (2) long time-frames for crop development through breeding due to low genetic diversity and the extended periods of time (5 years) needed for rubber trees to reach production maturity; and (3), lack of mechanical technologies for rubber harvesting which poses major challenges for this crop; rubber harvesting is entirely dependent on low cost manual labor.
My work at Edison Agrosciences was aimed at developing a sunflower rubber crop (by over-expressing natural rubber genes in GMO sunflower through Agrobacterium-mediated transformation) that will serve to diversify global rubber production and provide the US with an alternative source for this strategically important commodity. Sunflower is a native rubber-producing plant that represents the most attractive candidate for the development of a broad acreage rubber crop in the US. Rubber accumulates in commercial sunflower leaves to levels of 1 to 2% of dry weight. It is predicted that a 4- to 5-fold increase in this level of rubber production would be sufficient to make sunflower a commercially viable source of natural rubber.
I currently work at Greenlight Biosciences at RTP where I am using dsRNA-mediated gene silencing/RNAi for crop protection from plant pathogens and diseases.
How did you get your first break?
My first break prior to start of my career in ag-biotech R&D, was getting into Prof. K. Veluthambi’s lab at MKU. It happened because of Prof. R. Balasubramanian and my performance in the CSIR exam. After Ph.D,. My first break in my career was securing a post-doc position in Dr. Guido Sessa’s lab at Tel Aviv University, Israel. Just after submission of my Ph.D. thesis, I was vigorous in applying for a postdoctoral position abroad. I focused on Israel, USA and Europe as my top three destinations. Some of my friends were in Israel already and I came to know about the place and quality of science from them. After a series of 30-40 applications, my first break materialized after I got an email from Dr. Sessa from Israel on his interest in my candidature for a postdoc position in his lab. His was a very young lab which he recently started after returning to Israel from the USA. Because of his research publications, quality of work in plant disease resistance and his ties to Prof. Greg Martin at BTI, Cornell University, I did not think twice and accepted the position. Later, I got offers from the USA and Switzerland. However, I did not change my mind and was very clear to stick to joining Tel Aviv University which I did and spent close to 4 years that was very fruitful and laid the foundation for my R&D career in agbiotech.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
My first and foremost challenge was facing negative and demotivating comments from society on choosing plant science in my BS after 12th grade. Times have changed since then with multiple options in academics. However, 26-30 years back, the only two main areas that were talked about and society knew were Doctor and Engineering. Any other study area outside of these was disregarded and not entertained, and demoted. Lack of employment opportunities and a relatively very short time to enter into the workforce after 4-5 years of education were quoted as major reasons for the popularity of the above two careers. Such opportunities were not associated with other domains such as the one (Plant Science) I chose. I knew it was going to take longer than usual in this discipline to establish a career. However, I was determined to venture into this area and go deeper and specialize with a Ph.D. later. I did not care about what people had to say and stuck to my belief, ignoring their comments. Maybe my hypo-social/reserved personality helped the cause.
My second challenge was to clear two national exams GATE and CSIR that would provide me with a scholarship to pursue my Ph.D. program. I cleared GATE during my final semester in my MS at University of Madras by putting in extra hours for GATE exam preparation. Because of my MS exams, I could not focus on CSIR, but went ahead to take the exam to at least know about the CSIR test and get a firsthand experience. I did not clear CSIR in the first attempt which I attribute to not preparing well. However, passing the CSIR exam was a prerequisite for me to enter Ph.D. program at MKU in Prof. K. Veluthambi’s lab. So, I decided to put in rigorous training and more hours and fortunately cleared the exam.
After my post-doctoral stints at 3 Universities/Research Institutes in Israel and USA, I decided to enter the agtech industry as I was always interested in translating academic research into real world application. However, transitioning to industry from academics without prior industry experience was a major challenge. Also, in the USA, visa dependency to work in the industry adds to the challenge. I was fortunate that I had a chance to work in multiple areas in agbiotech related to plant transformation, GMO, plant pathology, gene silencing, molecular biology, crop protection during my postdoctoral work. This helped to garner attention from industry folks who came forward to support my immigration issues and hired me to kick start their research projects
Where do you work now?
I work for GreenLight Biosciences (GLB), a RNA company HQed in Medford, MA, USA with operations in RTP, NC, USA and Rochester, NY, USA.
I work in RTP, NC, USA with focus on applications of dsRNA-mediated RNAi technology for crop protection from pests and pathogens.
GLB is one of a few handful companies that is working on use of RNA for agtech and therapeutic applications. RNA molecules are very expensive to produce on a large scale for practical applications, which is the main bottleneck in real world application of this technology. Having said that GLB came up with a novel patented technology to mass produce biologically active dsRNA/mRNA molecules at a very cheap price that facilitated the application of dsRNA molecules to protect crop plants from pests and pathogens comparable to conventional chemistry techniques (insecticides/pesticides) that are used world-wide. Our technology is very environmentally friendly and is not toxic, but beneficial to insects, bees, butterflies etc. Also, soil and water streams are not polluted because RNA molecules have a short life and degrade quickly, unlike chemicals that can stay for years together
What problems do you solve?
I work on crop protection from pathogens using dsRNA-mediated RNAi. It is very important to know that a crop disease pandemic is on the horizon due to climate change, agricultural practices, increasing pathogen resistance to existing fungicides and insecticides. Take for example, banana is at the verge of extinction due to a fungal Panama disease. Newer technologies are needed to address crop loss and to feed estimated 9B people by 2050 with less water, land and resources. Also, many countries are banning the use of insecticides like neonicotinoids that harm beneficial insects like bees which are pollinating agents. So, GLB’s dsRNA technology is a green alternative that will be one of the key suites of technologies that are vital to address the above mentioned issues and protect crops from pests and pathogens. I work to solve the problem of how to deliver this dsRNA molecule into plants and follow up on the functionality of these molecules in plants through bio-assays and molecular assays, if these RNA can confer crop protection against disease caused by pathogens.
What skills are needed for the job? How did you acquire the skills?
Molecular biology, RNAi, gene silencing, plant pathology, Molecular plant-microbe interactions, handling plants and crops, plant transformation, plant tissue culture, cell biology are some of the skills required.
I acquired these skills in various agtech domains during my postdoctoral work. I had the opportunity to work in different research projects in multiple labs in Israel and the USA. These projects encompass a suite of novel and innovative technologies. Also not limiting myself to my comfort zone and using the opportunity to explore and learn many technologies during my career helped.
What is a typical day like?
To begin with, I should make it clear that an R&D job is not a
Usual 9 am-5 pm job. It does not go by time, but rather by what it takes to get the work done. A typical day is like checking emails to make sure if there are meetings, plan work for the day and that week. Usually work is planned to allow more time to do the work on the bench. Start the work around 8 am and go until 1-2 pm. After a 30 min break for lunch, resume work and do as long it takes to get it done for the day. It will warrant for you to show up early mornings, late nights and weekends depending on the workload and project deadlines
What is it you love about this job?
I like the fact that I am working on the latest innovative technologies that are gaining momentum and getting endorsements worldwide from global agtech companies and countries. I am also working for a company which is at the forefront of RNA revolution and will be the first to come up with a commercial solution for crop protection from insects very soon using dsRNA-mediated exogenous/spray on RNAi technology which is target specific, does not harm beneficial insects/organisms, eco-friendly and very potent in crop protection from insect pests and pathogens.
How does your work benefit society?
My current job provides me an opportunity to translate my research experience, skills and expertise that I acquired all these years into real world application and be part of a solution to the global problem of finding alternate green solutions for crop protection with an aim to reduce/eliminate currently used chemicals from food, soil and ecosystem to better planet and human health.
My R&D career so far provided me ample opportunities to work on research projects that are directly/indirectly tied to society. Science innovations and discoveries are not of use if they fail to benefit consumers and society. I have been working on plant transformation and GMOs for the past 20 years. One cannot deny the fact that crop production increased significantly and both farmers/consumers benefitted from this technology/work
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Though I learned in theory about plant genetic engineering and steps involved to generate a transgenic GMO plant with foreign DNA during my MS, I never had the opportunity to do hands-on execution. It was during my Ph.D. in Dr. Veluthambi’s lab at MKU, where I had the opportunity to do binary vector construction and plant transformation. It was the very first time, I developed plasmids containing foreign gene/DNA, Agrobacterium strains and transgenic GMO tobacco via Agrobacterium-mediated transformation and was very elated to see the small GMO tobacco plantlets that developed in tissue culture jars. Though I have worked on more than 10 crops and did many transformations, that first work on tobacco is very memorable and refreshing even after over two decades.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Follow your passion and interest. Ignore what others/society thinks and comments on your path. For some areas of study, it will take longer to taste the fruit. Do not think about the fruit of work when it is getting done. Try to acquire as many skills during your active young age when you are in college. Most importantly networking is the buzzword and mantra in this modern era. Try to network and establish connections that will surely help. LinkedIn is a great tool to do that and I personally benefited by being an active linkedin member.
Most importantly, Doctor/Engineer/IT is not the only area for study/career. Those days are gone. There is a shift now and biology based bio-economy is going to be the future. A recent report by reputed group puts biology as $4T economy going forward. Biorevolution has started and is the future.
Several interesting areas in biotechnology are bright and I have listed few of them below
Plant based meat, dairy and egg
Plant based food technologies market
AI/Data Science in Agriculture
To become a leader in agbiotech and be a part of a global group that can innovate and provide solutions to the number one global challenge of feeding 9B people by 2050 and beyond.
To share and contribute to global agtech projects in my areas of research expertise/background
Balaji Vasudevan – Profile, Biography & Research Interests
AgBiotech Scientist and Thought Leader with over 16 years of experience in Plant molecular biology | Agrobacterium biology | Crop transformation | Genome Editing | Cell Biology | Plant tissue culture | Disease Diagnostics | Phytopathogen/Plant-Microbial Assay Development | Molecular plant-microbe interactions | Plant Pathology |RNAi via HIGS/SIGS
Balaji Vasudevan is currently Plant Pathology/Plant Biology Lead at GreenLight Biosciences, Inc located in RTP, NC, USA. He earned his Master of Science in Plant Biotechnology in Chennai, India in 1994, and his Ph.D. in Plant Biotechnology from Madurai Kamaraj University, India in 2002, working with Prof. Karuppannan Veluthambi. In his thesis work, he developed transformation and regeneration system for black gram (urad bean, Vigna mungo), improved Agrobacterium– mediated transformation efficiency in rice and black gram by manipulating binary vectors with key Agrobacterium vir genes, cloned, sequenced, molecular characterized DNA B of a geminivirus Mung bean yellow mosaic virus-Vigna (MYMV-Vig), developed agroinfection based viral assays, identified and showed key viral gene targets for pathogen derived resistance to MYMV-Vig. His Ph.D. research was published in 5 international journals
After completing his Ph.D., Vasudevan went on to do his post-doctoral studies at Tel-Aviv University in the lab of Guido Sessa on molecular dissection of plant-bacterial interactions with an aim to identify disease resistance genes. Vasudevan used tomato and Pseudomonas/Xanthomonas system for his research to address bacterial speck and leaf spot diseases. He also worked on notorious Gram-positive bacterium Clavibacter that causes bacterial wilt and canker in tomato. He used cutting edge technologies like microarray, SSH and VIGS for this research and was the first researcher to identify tomato genes that were differentially regulated under Clavibacter attack. Vasudevan published 5 papers in international journals
Vasudevan returned to India in 2007 to accept a Senior Scientist/Group Lead position in Meta-helix Life Sciences Ltd., an agbiotech company located at Bangalore, India. He initiated and developed three projects for RNAi based resistance to geminiviruses in cotton, tomato and okra (CLCuV, TYLCV and OYVMV). After a brief 1 year stay at company, Vasudevan left for USA in 2008 for his second post-doctoral position at Cornell University, New York in lab of Dr. Christine Smart. His research focused on screening and identification of tomato/tobacco genes involved in disease resistance to tomato wilt and canker disease caused by Clavibacter. He was the first person to show that Clavibacter can infect N. benthamiana and cause symptoms as in host tomato. He generated transgenic tomato plants over-expressing two of lead genes that was identified from VIGS screen and showed resistance to Clavibacter-induced disease. He also collaborated with Prof. Thomas J. Burr on developing crown gall resistant GMO grapevines using Agrobacterium virE2 gene. He had 3 publications and one of his publication in Phytopathology was Editor’s pick for that issue.
In 2010, Vasudevan left Cornell University to accept a Research Scientist position at Noble Research Institute, Ardmore, Oklahoma, USA in the lab of Dr. Kiran Mysore. His work focused on identification of plant/host genes involved In Agrobacterium T-DNA transfer/integration with focus on NHEJ DNA repair pathway genes. Vasudevan identified many key NHEJ and plant genes like VIP2 that were shown to increase transformation efficiency. He published 3 papers in international journals. In 2012, Vasudevan joined as Senior Scientist in a gene editing company Cibus at San Diego, CA, USA. His research focused on development of gene-edited potato resistant/tolerant to devastating late blight disease and to test the effect of allelic variation of target genes on plant defense hormone accumulation and disease resistance to bacteria in Arabidopsis and oomycete Phytophthora infestans in potato. Vasudevan generated transgenic and gene edited potato and Arabidopsis events and showed tolerance to late blight disease and bacterial disease. In 2014, Vasudevan moved to RTP, NC, USA and joined Edison Agrosciences. He was the scientific PI for NSF-SBIR grant with Prof. Stanton Gelvin at Purdue University. He worked on enhancing plant genetic transformation by Agrobacterium, development of an efficient transformation system for sunflower, developing and commercializing innovative solutions
to produce plant-based industrial materials, with a primary focus on the development of alternative rubber crops (sunflower). In 2018, Vasudevan accepted Plant Pathology/Plant Biology Lead position at GreenLight Biosciences, Inc. His work focuses on development and application of dsRNA mediated exogenous/spray on RNAi to combat pathogens and pests in crop plants.
Vasudevan has 16 refereed international publications in top plant science journals, editorial board member for 2 and invited reviewer for 8 reputed journals.
His scientific areas of expertise and interests are Agrobacterium biology | Crop transformation | Genome Editing | Cell Biology | Plant tissue culture |Disease Diagnostics | Phytopathogen/Plant-Microbial Assay Development | Molecular plant-microbe interactions | Plant Pathology | Plant molecular biology |VIGS |RNAi (transgenic & exogenous spray on).