Dr. Richard S. Hussey Named Honorary Member of the Society of Nematologists

from Nematology Newsletter, September 2012


Richard Hussey (R) receives a plaque commemorating his selection as an Honorary Member of the Society from SON President Brent Sipes (L) at the annual meeting in Savannah, GA (August 15, 2012).
Photo courtesy of J. Eisenback.

Dr. Richard Hussey was raised on a family farm in Ohio. He first became interested in plant pathology and rootknot nematodes while earning a B.S. degree in Botany from Miami University of Ohio. A graduate program at the University of Maryland under the mentorship of Lorin Krusberg resulted in not only a Ph.D., but a lifelong fascination with nematodes and their interactions with plants.  His subsequent postdoctoral position at North Carolina State University represented a seminal moment in his career where he had the opportunity to work with some of the “greats” in nematology during the genesis of the International Meloidogyne Project.

A balance of basic and applied nematology research remained a theme of Dr. Hussey’s research program throughout his career as he moved to a faculty position at the University of Georgia (UGA). His early research program at UGA included field studies on soil compaction in conventional cotton plantations and the contribution of root-knot and lance nematodes to cotton disease. Dr. Hussey relished opportunities for collaboration. His alliance with a renowned soybean breeder at UGA lasted over 30 years and produced 23 soybean cultivars and germplasms with resistance to multiple species of phytoparasitic nematodes.

Amazingly, Dr. Hussey’s demonstrated excellence and productivity in applied nematology are matched by his pioneering research in the cellular and molecular basis of nematode parasitism of plants. He tapped the expertise of a world-class electron microscopist in his department to produce high-quality micrographs that clearly illustrated the formation of crystalline feeding tubes in giant-cells by root-knot nematodes, including a previously undocumented cellular endomembrane system associated only with active root-knot nematode feeding tubes.

The question of “what makes a nematode a parasite of plants” and how they induce the formation of complex feeding cells in host hosts has been at the core of Dr. Hussey’s research program for over 20 years. He adopted and expanded upon the earlier work of scientists that suggested that the secretory cells in the esophagus of tylenchid nematodes produced proteins that are secreted from the nematode stylet to promote successful parasitism of plant roots. He teamed with scientists at Wageningen University, North Carolina State University, and Iowa State University to make the ground-breaking discovery of the first phytoparasitic nematode “parasitism genes” that encoded esophageal gland secretory proteins. These parasitism genes encoded the first endogenous endoglucanases (cellulases) discovered in animals and also provided some of the first evidence of horizontal gene transfer from prokaryotes to eukaryotes.

A subsequent and unique effort to microaspirate the contents of the esophageal gland cells of parasitic nematode stages discovered almost 40 different expressed parasitism genes in root-knot and about 60 expressed parasitism genes in cyst nematodes. Bold experiments to silence nematode parasitism genes in transgenic plants that express double-stranded RNA complimentary
to the nematode genes have led to RNA interference (RNAi)-based plant resistance. The RNAi discoveries not only highlighted the essential nature of specific nematode parasitism genes, they also represented a potential novel, durable, and broad-spectrum means to develop nematode-resistant crop plants.

Dr. Hussey has an impressive record of 159 refereed publications plus 42 book chapters and reviews along with several million dollars in federal and commodity funding for his research program. Likewise his selection as a Distinguished Research Professor at UGA, Fellow of SON, and Fellow and Ruth Allen Award winner from the American Phytopathological Society further highlight his stature as a scientist among his peers.


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