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Iowa Soybean Research Center

in collaboration with the Iowa Soybean Association

Researcher Spotlight: Gwyn Beattie

Gwyn Beattie
Gwyn Beattie, plant pathology, entomology and microbiology, works in her lab at Iowa State University.

ISRC affiliate Gwyn Beattie is the Robert Earle Buchanan Distinguished Professor of Bacteriology for Research and Nomenclature in the Department of Plant Pathology, Entomology and Microbiology at Iowa State. Beattie is interested in understanding the many benefits microbes provide to plants, including enhancing their resilience to stress. Toward this end, her research team is exploring how microbiomes on soybean roots are influenced by stress. Beattie and her group discovered there are shifts in the composition of the microbiomes on roots exposed to drought, salinity, and metal stresses, and has identified the role of systemic plant signals in causing these shifts, providing insights into how plants shape their resident microflora. This knowledge is important to designing approaches to foster beneficial root microbiomes on plants.

Beattie’s team also looks at how microbes colonize leaves, and particularly what makes the foliar pathogen Pseudomonas syringae a super successful colonist. Her team discovered that the unusual adaptability of this pathogen to the fluctuating environmental conditions on leaves is due to the ability to anticipate, and prepare for, water evaporation on leaves following exposure to light, such as the morning sun’s rays. This research was recently highlighted by Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the article: “Researchers Discover Bacteria Use Light Cues to Anticipate, Prepare for Coming Stress.”

A third thrust of Beattie’s research team is on the mechanisms and control of insect-transmitted vascular pathogens, particularly in melons, squash and other cucurbit plants. Current interests are focused on biological approaches to controlling wilts caused by these pathogens, and understanding if increased disease outbreaks reflect changes in the insect hosts for these pathogens. Such changes have been predicted due to climate-driven shifts in the geographic range of potential insect hosts.

From 2016-2020, the ISRC funded Beattie and Danny Singh (current ISRC co-director) for a project titled “Root and Microbiome Traits to Tailor the Next-Gen Soybean Cultivars.” A number of tools were created and traits identified for future research, including the development of an in-house, mobile, low-cost, high-resolution root phenotyping system and a collection of 450 bacterial isolates from soybean roots that are being used to probe how plants shape their root microbiomes. “Working with the ISRC was a highly rewarding experience for me. I liked how the center brought many voices to the table – growers, industry and researchers – and found a strong appreciation for research across the spectrum from fundamental to applied. The center is very forward-thinking.  And of course I loved sharing stories of the power of microbes!” said Beattie.

Beattie’s work with the ISRC led to her receiving federal funding through a USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture: Agricultural Microbiomes in Plant Systems Program grant for a project titled, “Mechanistic Drivers Shaping Root Microbiomes and Microbiome Drivers of Fitness Benefits in Drought-stressed Plants.” Beattie served as a principal investigator along with ISU Professors Dan Nettleton (statistics) and Basil Nikolau (biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology).  

Beattie is a Fellow of the American Phytopathological Society, Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Annual Review of Phytopathology, a member of the Board of Directors of the International Alliance for Phytobiomes Research and prior Chair of the American Phytopathological Society Public Policy Board. She teaches Bacterial-Plant Interactions, Microbial Ecology, and the Biology of Microorganisms courses as part of Iowa State’s microbiology and plant pathology programs, and works with a team of scientists, post-docs, graduate students and undergraduates in her research laboratory.

Beattie earned a BA in Chemistry from Carleton College and a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Following post-doctoral research at the University of California-Berkeley in microbial ecology, she joined the faculty at Iowa State University.