The Dr Christine Hone-Buske Scholarship honours an Outstanding Publication by a PhD Student in Cell & Systems Biology. This year’s award goes to Tatiana Ruiz-Bedoya for her work on “Cooperative virulence via the collective action of secreted pathogen effectors”.

Ruiz-Bedoya acquired an appreciation of natural diversity in her home city of Bucaramanga, Colombia and the nearby Chicamocha Canyon. From an early age, she sought to understand the natural world through science, proceeding to her current doctoral studies in Cell & Systems Biology.

In moving within the academic world through Bogotá, Uppsala, Munich and Boston prior to Toronto, Ruiz-Bedoya accumulated a prodigious amount of experience in genetics. Her interests range from identifying trafficked endangered animals through DNA to evolutionary genetics of phlox flower colour.

Ruiz-Bedoya was intrigued by research showing that the arms race between pathogens and host leads to rapid evolutionary changes. This passion led her to the Gutttman and Desveaux labs in Toronto, which study the host-pathogen response between plants and the bacteria Pseudomonas syringae.

Most plant pathology studies focus on individual strains found at high frequencies during outbreaks. But Ruiz-Bedoya notes that P syringae is an extremely diverse species complex with a life cycle that moves from clouds in the sky to soil surrounding potential plant hosts. Through this life cycle, there could be wide variation in virulence.

Ruiz-Bedoya and her lab colleagues reasoned that a focus on individual strains added bias to the way virulence was assessed. Within a carefully constructed community of non-virulent bacteria, they found that virulence could indeed emerge as a collective phenotype irreducible to its components.

Ruiz-Bedoya’s results form the very first proof-of-principle on the emergence of cooperation-driven virulence through the collective action of virulence factors. The findings of her award-winning research with Dr Pauline Wang, Prof David Guttman and Prof Darryl Desveaux was published in Nature Microbiology.

Ruiz-Bedoya attributes her success to stubbornness and to a determination instilled by her mother to go above and beyond. She is excited by science and her passion for research is something she emulates from seeing it in her many mentors. “Some of these qualities can be as helpful as they can be upsetting, especially when experiments don’t work”, says Ruiz-Bedoya, “But you must be determined to find the balance within your life and I am very privileged that I get to do science for a living.”

With additional roles as a teaching assistant, communicator and friend, Tatiana reflects the spirit of Dr Christine Hone-Buske, who approached her work as a student, teaching assistant, and researcher at U of T with confidence, curiosity and drive.

Congratulations, Tatiana Ruiz-Bedoya, on your Dr. Christine Hone-Buske Scholarship for Outstanding Publication by a PhD Student!