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MSU Researcher Gets NIH Grant to Study Harmful Plant Bacteria

Kyaw (Joe) Aung

Kyaw (Joe) Aung, a research associate in the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory (PRL), College of Natural Science, is the recipient of a 2016 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Pathway to Independence Award. The award will provide up to $837,000 in financial support over five years to support Aung’s research on how harmful bacteria infect plants.

“Scientists have known about the battle bacteria have trying to invade plants,” Aung said. “Plants recognize the invasion with special receptors that activate their defenses. But the bacteria counter with an injection into plant cells to overcome these defenses.

“I want to reveal how the bacteria manipulate the communication network between the plant cells,” he continued. “Perhaps hijacking the plant cell-to-cell communication network is the way it spreads the damage. I also want to look at how the different compartments inside each plant cell respond to and coordinate with each other upon bacterial infection.”

Aung’s mentor, Sheng Yang He, MSU Distinguished Professor in the PRL and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator—Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, is pleased with Aung’s receipt of the award.

“Joe is clearly one of the most capable, yet extremely modest and nicest postdocs I have mentored in my scientific career,” He said. “Receiving a NIH K99 award is both a well-deserved recognition of Joe’s achievements and a great opportunity for launching his independent scientific career.”

Aung remembers feeling excited and overwhelmed when he first heard that he was receiving the award.

“It’s a humbling experience to know that I was chosen among a group of talented postdocs,” Aung said. “I feel especially proud to receive this award as a plant person since it is historically given to research projects advancing human disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

“In certain ways, we react to our surroundings in ways similar to plants,” he added. “This research might give us a new angle into studying why and how we humans get sick.”

Aung was born and raised in Burma/Myanmar. He received a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in horticulture from the National Chung Hsing University, Taichung, Taiwan, and his doctorate at MSU. He has been a research associate in He’s lab for almost five years.

To read more about Aung’s work, visit http://bit.ly/2eiyXQG.

The NIH Pathway to Independence Award provides an opportunity for promising postdoctoral scientists to receive both mentored and independent research support from the same award, with the goal of helping awardees transition toward independent careers in two phases. The first provides one to two years of mentored support; the second is activated once the person is at an appropriate independent research position and provides three years of support.

– via College of Natural Science website

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