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K-State scientist to receive $1 million CAREER award
Date:4/30/2010

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- A lifelong interest in plants and science, nurtured by early days spent on her family's Georgia peanut farm, led Anna Whitfield to a career in the study of plants - and now to a $1 million National Science Foundation CAREER Award to continue her work at Kansas State University.

The five-year award will allow Whitfield, who is an assistant professor of plant pathology at K-State, to study how insects that serve as vectors in carrying viruses from one plant to another, respond to the virus themselves.

"The idea behind the proposal is that most viruses, particularly plant viruses, are transmitted by insect vectors," she said. "I am studying a virus that multiplies in the vector. I want to understand the effect of the virus on the insect vector."

The National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program supports the early career-development activities of teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization, according to the NSF.

"The virus I am working with, maize mosaic virus, infects corn and sorghum, as well as the insect vector," she said. "It infects the nervous system and brain of the insect, but we don't see any dramatic effect on these insects, at least none thats been documented. I'll be studying how the insect tolerates this infection and if it changes its behavior."

Although scientists have been studying insect interaction with other pathogens for some time, relatively little work has been done in insect interaction with viruses, she said.

Maize mosaic virus is in the same family of viruses as rabies. They have different hosts but are closely related. For that reason, Whitfield said, it is possible that the project's findings will shed light on viruses that infect vertebrate animals as well as plants.

"Dr. Whitfield is a leader in the study of vector/virus interactions," said
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Contact: Anna Whitfield
aewtospo@k-state.edu
785-532-3364
Kansas State University
Source:Eurekalert

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