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Jean Ristaino

William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and Director of Emerging Plant Disease

William Neal Reynolds Distingushed Professor

Director Emerging Plant DIsease and Global Food Security Cluster

2578 Thomas Hall


My lab works on emerging plant diseases that threaten global food security.  A major focus of research is to understand the factors that contribute to disease emergence including the epidemiology and population genetics of Oomycete plant pathogens in the genus PhytophthoraPhytophthora infestans caused the Irish potato famine in the 1840s, and is a reemerging threat to global food security. We study the population genetics and migrations of both historic and present day strains of the pathogen. My lab was part of a multi-investigator group that sequenced the genome of the pathogen. We are now using the genome sequence to develop novel strategies for managing disease in the field. Our team has developed a web portal called that can be used to track recent outbreaks of disease using geospatial analystics. We also work on other pathogens of tropical crop plants including black Sigatoka on banana, downy mildew of tobacco, soilborne fungi and coffee rust that are threats to global food security. Dr. Ristaino serves as the director of the “Emerging Plant Disease and Global Food Security” cluster at NC State, has served as a Jefferson Science Fellow for the US Department of State and received a Fulbright European Research Scholar Award to work with the University of Catania on late blight in Italy in 2018. In 2020, I was elected a Fellow of the American Phytopathological Society in August 2020 and was named a AAAS Fellow in November, 2020. In 2022, Dr. Ristaino will serve as a Fulbright Scholar in the Republic of Ireland.

Plant diseases don’t stop at a nation’s borders and miles of oceans don’t prevent their spread, either. That’s why plant disease surveillance, improved plant disease detection systems and predictive plant disease modeling – integrated at the global scale – are necessary to mitigate future plant disease outbreaks and protect the global food supply, according to a team of researchers in a new commentary published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

See local CBS17 news on the PNAS paper and Washington Post report “Plant Pandemics and how they could endanger our food supply. Scientists sound alarm on growing menace”.

In many contexts and times, diseases have reshaped life, whether it be human life, animal life or plant life. I  gave a podcast on the consequence of plant diseases and the Irish Potato famine for the 2020 class Wicked Problems Wolfpack Solutions. In this podcast, I share own experience with plant pathology, my global travels to track outbreaks and then talk about my efforts to understand the history of the potato famine and why it is relevant to controlling emerging pathogens of all kinds today.

Visit my at lab for further information

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Selected Publications

Li, Z,, Liu, Y., Hossain, O., Paul, R.,  Yao, S.,  Wu, S., Ristaino, J. B.,  Zhu, Y.,  Wei, Q.  2021.  Real-time monitoring of plant stresses via chemiresistive profiling of leaf volatiles by a wearable sensor. Matter 4 (7), 2553-2570

Paul, R., Ostermann, E., Chen, Y.,  Saville, A. C.,  Yang, Y.,  Gu, Z.,  Whitfield, A. E.  Ristaino, J. B., and Wei. Q. 2021. Integrated Microneedle-Smartphone Nucleic Acid Amplification Platform for In-Field Diagnosis of Plant Diseases.  Biosensors and Bioelectronics 187:113312.

Saville, A. and Ristaino, J. B. 2021. Global historic pandemics caused by the FAM-1 genotype of Phytophthora infestans one six continents. Nature Scientific Reports 11: 12335.

Ristaino, J. B, AndersonP.,  Brauman, K. A.,  Cunniffe, N. J.,  FederoffN.,  Garrett, K. A., Gilligan, C., Holmes, T., Martin, M., MacDonald, G. K., Neenan, P.,  Records, A.,  Schmale, D., Tateosian, L.  2021. The Persistent Threat of Emerging Plant Diseases to Global Food Security. Proc. National Academy Sciences, USA.

McMillan, H. M.,  Zebell, S. G.,  Ristaino, J. B.,  Dong, X. and Kuehn, M. 2021. Protective Plant Immune Responses are Elicited by Bacterial Outer Membrane Vesicles. Cell Host and Microbe. Cell Reports 34:108645.

Paul, R., Ostermann,E., Gu, , Ristaino, J. and Wei, Q. 2020.  DNA Extraction from Plant Leaves Using a Microneedle Patch. Current Protocols in Plant Biology 5, e20104

Ristaino, J. B. 2020. The importance of mycological and plant herbaria in tracking a plant killer. Front. Ecol. Evol.  7:521.

Ristaino, J. B., Saville, A. C., Paul, R., Cooper, D. and Wei, Q. Comparison of LAMP, real-time and Digital PCR for detection of Phytophthora infestans.  Plant Disease:

Ristaino, J. B., Cooke, D.E.L., Acuña, I., Muñoz, M. 2018. The Threat of Late Blight to Global Food Security. Pages 101-133 in: Emerging Plant Disease and Global Food Security. A. Records and J. B. Ristaino, eds. American Phytopathological Society Press, St. Paul.

Paul, R., Saville, A. C.,  Hansel, C.,  Ye, Y.,  Ball, C.  Williams, A.,  Chang, X.,  Chen, C., Gu, Z., Ristaino, J. B.,  and Wei, Q. 2019. Extraction of Plant DNA by Microneedle Patch for Rapid Detection of Plant Diseases. ACS Nano 13 6540-6549. DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.9b00193.

Li, Z., Paul, R., Tis, T.  ,  Saville, A. C. , Hansel, J. C., Ristaino, J. B. and Wei, Q.  2019. Noninvasive Plant Disease Diagnostics Enabled by Smartphone-Based Fingerprinting of Leaf Volatiles. Nature Plants 5: 856-866.

Saville, A. and Ristaino, J. B.  2019.  Genetic structure and subclonal variation of extant and recent US lineages of Phytophthora infestansPhytopathology 109:1614-1627


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