Please welcome Dr. J. Alejandro Rojas back to PSM

Alejandro Rojas returns to PSM as an assistant professor, bringing his family, 3 students, and a passion for learning more about the role of fungi and oomycetes on plant health and how their genetic makeup shapes those interactions.

Getting settled in: Juanita Gil, Alejandro Rojas and Mariana Araujo. Juanita will continue her work on the development of genomic resources and group specific markers for evaluation of genetic diversity of pathogenic Rhizoctonia species, and Mariana's project is focused on the effect of cotton seed treatments on seedling pathogen communities.

Alejandro began his career in his native Colombia, where he earned a master’s degree in microbiology at Universidad de los Andes, and first discovered his interest in mycology. “I had a great experience there, working on fungi degrading archives and characterizing their enzymes, and I later moved to plant pathology project in the same lab. Alejandro credits his mentors Maria Caridad Cepero, a dedicated mycologist, and Silvia Restrepo, “who allowed me to work on Phytophthora and helped a lot of us to go abroad to continue our careers.” 

Alejandro found his way in 2008 MSU to study late blight of potatoes with Dr. Willie Kirk for his master’s and later joined Dr. Marty Chilvers’ program for his Ph.D. on the ecology of oomycetes causing seedling diseases on soybeans. “I gained an appreciation for MSU because of the impact of the research and the reputation that MSU has--not only among local stakeholders but also nationally and abroad. “His best memories of that time at MSU are of the community in the department, especially among the students who are now colleagues in academia and industry. 

He then spent about two and a half years as a post-doc at Duke University with Dr. Rytas Vilgalys, where he worked to characterize the role of ectomycorrhizal and endophytic fungi associated with conifers and poplars. Fond memories in North Carolina include working with Rytas and his “mycofam” which gets bigger every year. “It is an amazing and very supportive community.” 

Alejandro with his lab group at the University of Arkansas.

With his Ph.D. and his post-doc work, he then landed a job at the University of Arkansas in 2018, where he focused on soilborne plant pathogens, greenhouse plant production, and seed quality, addressing the critical needs of farmers. 

Field work for the Rojas lab, University of Arkansas. Qiurong Fan (left) will join Rojas in PSM shortly, to complete her project "The biology and epidemiology of taproot decline of soybean: a novel disease caused by Xylaria necrophora."  

At Arkansas, Rojas was the lead investigator or co-investigator on more than $1.9 million in grant-funded projects. "This is an impressive total amount of funding," said Dr. Ken Korth, chair of the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at U of A in a letter nominating Rojas for an Early Career Performance Award, "but equally important is that it comes from a broad mix of sources ranging from federal to state levels." 

Working the fields: Quirong Fan will move to MSU later this semester. 

And now returning to MSU, bringing his students: Juanita Gil, Qiurong Fan, and Mariana Araujo getting settled in with his family, looking forward to many fruitful relationships and collaborations, including advancing his research program and growing his team to produce impactful research for stakeholders.  

Also, Alejandro plans to be teaching two main classes: one focused on studying population genetics and the diversity of plant pathogens and an undergrad-level class focused on methods in plant pathology that will help us solidify skills for future students in our discipline and other related areas.

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