John G. Jelesko

Associate Professor

Program Focus

My research program seeks to understand the molecular biology and evolution of plant specialized metabolism responsible for producing valuable chemicals.  Historically, plants were the source for economically important medicines and materials used in manufacturing (fibers, wood, gums, resins, adhesives, etc).  In recent decades synthetic materials have eclipsed the use of natural products in the manufacturing of most goods.  This was made possible by plentiful inexpensive geo-petrochemical feed stocks.  However, as geo-petrochemical reserves inevitably decline, the demand for chemical feed stocks to supply the manufacturing domain will only increase.  The diverse metabolic potential of plants combined with computational biology, genetic, and synthetic biology technologies hold tremendous opportunities for sustainable chemical feedstock production for use in the pharmaceutical and manufacturing domains of the economy.

Molecular biology and chemical ecology of alkylphenols.  Alkylphenol Urushiol is the chemical responsible for the classic irritating rashes after contact with poison ivy/oak/sumac plants.  Urushiol-like alkylphenol compounds are produced by other members of the Anacardiaceae including mango, cashew, pistachio, and the Japanese lacquer tree.  Studies recently showed that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels result in increased poison ivy invasiveness and production of more noxious forms of urushiol.  Despite the predicted increase in poison ivy invasiveness and toxicity due to climate change, astonishingly little is known about poison ivy ecology and urushiol biosynthesis.  Therefore, my group recently began foundational studies focused on poison ivy ecology and the molecular biology of urushiol production.  We are interested in the long term goal of using synthetic biology methods to produce urushiols suitable for high-value material science applications.

Fungal biocontrol of weedy and invasive alkylphenol producing plants.  We have identified a native fungal species responsible for severe wilting of poison ivy seedlings, but is otherwise an endophyte on common forest plant species.  Interestingly, this same fungal species is reported to be an entomopathogen on an invasive exotic insect of hemlock forests.  The molecular basis of for this intra-phyla pathogenesis profile is a topic of interest.  This fungus provides new opportunities for safe fungal biocontrol of emerging poison ivy and exotic invasive Anacardiaceae species in managed landscapes and recreation areas.

 

Current Projects

“Identification of Poison Ivy Urushiol Biosynthetic Genes Using RNAseq” – this project is funded by the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute & Fralin Life Science Institute Small Grants Program and is aimed at developing informatic resources enabling the identification and cloning of urushiol biosynthetic genes.

Education

Ph.D., Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, 1992

M.S., Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, 1988

B.S., Bacteriology, University of California, Davis, 1983

Experience

  • 2013 - American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow
  • July – December 2013 – Visiting Associate Professor, Univ. California San Francisco, Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Six month sabbatical leave in Prof. Matthew Jacobson’s laboratory learning computational protein modeling and ligand docking.

  • 2007 – present: Associate Professor, Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg
  • 2000 – 2007: Assistant Professor, Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg
  • 1998 – 2000: Associate Specialist, Plant Biology Department, University of California, Berkeley
  • 1997 – 1998: Visiting Researcher, Hitachi Advanced Research Laboratories, Saitama, Japan
  • 1992 – 1998: Postdoctoral Fellow, Plant Biology Department, University of California, Berkeley

Selected Major Awards

  • 2012 – CIDER - Teacher of the Week Award
  • 1996 - National Science Foundation - Center for Global Partnership Award
  • 1994 - National Science Foundation - Postdoctoral Fellowship in Plant Biology
  • 1991 - University of Washington - Predoctoral Plant Molecular Integration and Function Graduate Fellowship
  • 1987 - National Institutes of Health - Predoctoral Traineeship in Developmental Biology

Courses Taught

  • PPWS 2104 – Plants, Genes, and People
  • ALS 2404 – Biotechnology in a Global Society

Other Teaching and Advising

  • Mentoring graduate and undergraduate researchers to become skilled practitioners in scientific inquiry is both challenging and immensely gratifying.  This begins with teaching undergraduate researchers specific laboratory skills, but then transitions to teaching the student to apply these skills to answer specific biological questions.  The goal of mentoring graduate students is to closely integrate the formulating of testable biological questions with state-of-the-art technologies with which to answer those scientific questions.  This requires attentive supervision by the advisor, and curiosity and self motivation by the student.  With time and experience the student develops intellectual independence and advanced technical skills, whereby they develop into a skilled scientist.  It is extremely gratifying to be a part of the graduate training process and watch my student’s careers develop in subsequent years.
  • I am a participating faculty member of the Interdepartmental Translational Plant Science program.  This is a peer to peer effort on campus of molecular plant science oriented faculty members working collaboratively to recruit new graduate students to Virginia Tech and strengthen the molecular plant science activities and resources on campus.  The TPS program is organized and run by collaborating faculty who rotate through various roles and responsibilities.  
  • Kasson, M.T., J.R. Pollok, E.B. Benhase, and J.G. Jelesko, 2014, First Report of Seedling Blight of Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) by Colletotrichum fioriniae in Virginia. Plant Disease, 98: 995-996.

  • Zhao, B., F. A. Agblevor and J. G. Jelesko (2014). "Enhanced production of hairy root metabolites using microbubble generator." Plant Cell Tissue and Organ Culture 117: 157-165.
  • Dornfeld, C., A. J. Weisberg, C. R. K, N. Dudareva, J. G. Jelesko and H. A. Maeda (2014). "Phylobiochemical Characterization of Class-Ib Aspartate/Prephenate Aminotransferases Reveals Evolution of the Plant Arogenate Phenylalanine Pathway." Plant Cell 26: 3101-3114.
  • Benhase, B., and Jelesko, J. G. 2013, Germinating and Culturing Axenic Poison Ivy Seedlings. HortScience, 48:1-5.
  • Zhao, B., Agblevor, F., and Jelesko, J. G., 2013, Enhanced production of the alkaloid nicotine in hairy root cultures of Nicotiana tabacum L., Plant Cell, Tissue & Organ Culture, 113:121-129..
  • Price, M. B., Jelesko, J., Okumoto, S., 2012, Glutamate receptor homologs in plants: Functions and Evolutionary Origins, Frontiers in Plant Traffic and Transport, 3:235.
  • Jelesko, J. G., 2012, An expanding role for purine uptake permease –like transporters in plant secondary metabolism, Frontiers in Plant Physiology, 3:78.
  • Hildreth, S. B., Gehman, E. A., Yang, H., Lu, R.-H., K C, R., Harich, K., Yu, S., Lin, J., Sandoe, J. L., Okumoto, S., Murphy, A., Jelesko, J. G., 2011, A tobacco nicotine uptake permease affects alkaloid metabolism., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A., 108:18179-18184.
  • Kasarda, M. E., Terpenny, J. P., Inman, D., Precoda, K. R., Jelesko, J., Sahin, A., and Park, J., 2007. Design for adaptability (DFAD) – a new concept for achieving sustainable design. Robotics and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing. 23:727-734.
  • Lightbourn, G. J., Jelesko, J. G. and Veilleux, R. E., 2007. Retrotransposon-based markers from potato monoploids used in somatic hybridization. Genome 50:492-502.
  • Heim, W. G., Sykes, K. A., Hildreth, S. H., Lu, R-H., Sun, J., and Jelesko, J. G., 2007. Cloning and characterization of a Nicotiana tabacum methylputrescine oxidase transcript.  Phytochemistry 68:454-463.
  • Kidd, S. K., Melillo, A. M., Lu, R-H., Reed, D. G., Kuno, N., Uchida, K., Furuya, M., and Jelesko, J. G., 2006. The A and B loci in tobacco regulate a network of stress response genes, few of which are associated with nicotine biosynthesis. Plant Molecular Biology 60:699-716.
  • Heim, W. G., Lu, R-H., and Jelesko, J. G., 2006. Expression of the SAM recycling pathway in Nicotiana tabacum roots. Plant Science 170:835-834.
  • Deng, F., Jelesko, J. G., and Hatzios K. K., 2006. Corrigendum to “Effects of glyphosate, chlorsulfuron, and methyl jasmonate on growth and alkaloid biosynthesis of jimsonweed. [Pestic. Biochem. Physiol. 82 (2005) 16-26]”. Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology 84:155.
  • Jelesko, J. G., Carter, K., Kinoshita, Y., and Gruissem, W., 2005. Frequency and character of alternative somatic recombination fates during T-DNA integration. Molecular Genetics and Genomics 274:91-102.
  • Heim, W. and Jelesko, J. G., 2004. Association of diamine oxidase and S-adenosylhomocysteine hydrolase in Nicotiana tabacum extracts. Plant Molecular Biology 56:299-308.
  • Reed, D. G. and Jelesko, J. G., 2004. The A and B loci of Nicotiana tabacum have non-equivalent effects on the mRNA levels of four alkaloid biosynthetic genes. Plant Science 167:1123-1130.
  • Jelesko, J. G., Carter, K., Thompson, W., Kinoshita, Y., and Gruissem W., 2004. Meiotic recombination between paralogous RBCSB genes on sister chromatids of Arabidopsis thaliana. Genetics 166:947-957.
  • Deng, F., Jelesko, J., Cramer, C. L., Wu, J., and Hatzios, K. K., 2003. Use of an antisense gene to characterize glutathione S-transferase functions in transformed suspension-cultured rice cells and calli. Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology 75:27-37.