A fascination with microbes led Colombian plant pathologist Carolina Mazo-Molina to gain her PhD from Cornell and she is now helping in the fight against one of the biggest threats to the world’s tomato crop – a microscopic bacterium.
Mazo-Molina’s says her passion for plants started at an early age.
“My relationship with science started when my dad, Freddy Mazo, gave me a mini-microscope while I was in high-school in Barranquilla, Colombia,” she said.
Now she works on bacterial speck disease, which is caused by the Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato or Pst for short. This is a significant pest in tomato crops: in 2015, in upstate New York, there was an outbreak of bacterial speck, and several tomato fields were devastated within days.
“It is urgent to find novel sources of genetic resistance to protect susceptible tomato plants from emerging plant pathogens,” she said.
To find a potential solution, Mazo-Molina worked with a wild relative of tomato called Solanum lycopersicoides originally from South America.
As a result of her research, Mazo-Molina identified a specific protein in that wild species that detects the damaging protein from the bacteria – this plant-microbe interaction confers protection against bacterial speck disease in tomato plants.