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isoflavone-derived compounds play a role in defending plants against microbial infection.

“This was an important topic of study about 30 years ago, but then the topic was dropped by researchers and it lost momentum,” Ma said. “My lab is now revisiting the problem. Of course, we still have many questions to answer. We need to fully understand how isoflavones function to protect plants so that we can design specific strategies aimed at better protecting the plant.” Ma’s lab is also interested in understanding what makes pathogens what they are. Why is it that among ecologically similar bacteria, some cause disease while others do not? Her lab is also studying how plants evolve mechanisms to protect themselves from infection, how pathogens subvert this defense and become virulent again.

“Pathogens get wise to the disease- fighting strategies we use in agriculture,” Ma said. “This is evolution at work. But with fundamental knowledge on how pathogens cause disease we can develop sustainable and applicable strategies to combat disease.” Ma received her doctoral degree in biology in 2003 at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. Thereafter, she did postdoctoral research for three years at the University of Toronto. She joined UCR in 2006. Her awards and honors include a Regents’ Faculty Fellowship at UCR, a postdoctoral fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the W.B. Pearson Medal from the University of Waterloo.

She chose the soybean plant to study because the pathogen she was interested in, Pseudomonas syringae, attacks the soybean plant. Soybean is the second largest crop and the largest agricultural export in the United States. In addition to being an important human and animal food crop, it is also a major feedstock for biodiesel.

Ma was joined in the research by UCR’s Huanbin Zhou (first author of the research paper and a postdoctoral researcher in the Ma group), Jian Lin, Aimee Johnson, Robyn Morgan and Wenwan Zhong. Zhong is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry.


Wenbo Ma examines soybean plants in the lab. She earned her doctorate at the University of Waterloo and did post-doctorate work at the University of Toronto before joining UC Riverside.

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