2017 New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research

Jonas King, Ph.D.
Mississippi State University

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research awarded eight grants to the 2017 New Innovators in Food and Agriculture Research recipients. These awardees will receive a total of $4.8 million over five years. The New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research award is designed to provide the early investment needed to launch new faculty members into successful scientific careers in food and agriculture. Learn more about the FFAR New Innovators.

Research Project: Developing Massively Parallel Sequencing for Agricultural Surveillance

Jonas King (right), Ph.D. and a graduate student gather data on plant pathogens.

While the number of traditional scientist who identify insect pests are in decline, the growing scale of global commerce has increased the introduction of exotic plant pathogens and insect pests to unprecedented levels. Combined, these factors point to the pressing need for the development of a reliable toolkit for the molecular surveillance of introduced pests and pathogens. Non-targeted analyses via massively parallel sequencing (MPS, also known as next-generation sequencing) offers a means of pathogen detection that works independently of any prior knowledge about a pathogen and can be used for the discovery and characterization of novel pathogens. Several hurdles, most related to costs and computational analysis, remain to be overcome before this strategy becomes a practical means of agricultural pathogen and pest surveillance.

Dr. Jonas King, Ph.D., in conjunction with other entomologists from Mississippi State University (MSU) and researchers from the USDA ARS FDWSRU, will collaborate to further push the two most promising MPS technologies towards becoming practical means of surveillance and diagnostics for an array of plant pathogens and insect pests. The two MPS technologies we will focus on are the mainstay, Illumina, and a portable newcomer, nanopore sequencing. Researchers will combine these technologies with novel data analysis pipelines and refine their use in detecting diverse plant pathogens and insects of importance in row crop, orchard, and forestry settings. This research will impact consumers and producers as it will help identify novel means, and streamline existing means, of pathogen detection in agricultural settings. 

About Jonas King, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Mississippi State University

Dr. King's training in entomology and molecular biology began fifteen years ago at the University of Mississippi and has continued with training at Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins Universities and the USDA-ARS. His past work has focused primarily on insect -pathogen interactions and insect innate immunity. Other past research topics have included molecular systematics, parasitology, and molecular analyses of bacterial select agents. In a broad sense, Dr. King's ongoing research interests relate to cellular and molecular-level aspects of the interactions between arthropods, their associated microbiomes, and the human and plant pathogens that they vector. He commonly employs an array of molecular, computational, biochemical and microscopy tools during my research. His most recent research endeavor has focused on the detection of pathogens using novel molecular techniques and ways of streamlining these techniques for faster and more accurate detection.

Dr. King's lab currently employs one PhD student, three master’s students, an average of four directed study undergraduate researchers and one postdoctoral-level researcher. Because of his experiences, he is aware of the importance of regular communication among project members and of constructing a realistic research and training program, timeline, and budget.

Learn more: http://kinglab.bch.msstate.edu/