Epicoccum dickmanii –A new species in memory of Prof. Martin B. Dickman (1950-2018)- a leader in the study of fungal biology and fungal-host interactions

Fungal Expression of Gratitude  

Fungal Expression of Gratitude  

Prof. Oded Yarden, from the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Prof. Martin Dickman, who was the director of the Institute for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology at Texas A&M University, worked together on a series of studies in fungal biology and fungal-host interactions. Their studies covered fungal spore germination, regulation of early developmental events, branching and differentiation sclerotial development and fungal pathogenicity, along with other aspects of fungal biology. 

After Prof. Dickman’s passing Prof. Yarden named a novel fungal species in honor of his memory: Epicoccum dickmanii. “Marty loved the sea and I thought this was an appropriate way to combine my memory of him, his love for fungi and his love for the water. I hope you also see it this way.” 


What would you say was unique about this partnership? What helped it last that long? 


“Marty and I first met at an American Phytopathological Society meeting in the early 1990s. I was still a BARD post-doc studying fungal molecular genetics at Stanford, while Marty had a position at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln). We were both eager to harness newly developed molecular tools for the study of fungi and our approach was to combine the use of a highly tractable and amenable model system (Neurospora crassa) with plant pathogens (mainly Colletotrichum spp. and Sclerotinia sclerotiorum).  

Our scientific curiosity and motivation to understand fundamental processes in fungal biology (including their interaction with plants) were the strong bases for a long term and fruitful scientific relationship, much of it supported by BARD. Over the years, this also developed into a strong and lasting personal friendship which also included our families. Marty was a “work hard, play hard” individual and in parallel to indulging in scientific work and discussions, he was always also a fun person to be with.  

We both tried to confer our enthusiasm to science and the fact that science can be enjoyable to our own students and those of our respective research groups. Marty was able to demonstrate that one major pathway (autophagy) can be altered in the plant via a fungal determinant, oxalic acid, which is secreted by the omnivorous plant pathogen Sclerotinia sclerotiorum (oxalic acid was one of the foci of our BARD collaborations).  

Marty’s finding that this determinant is a means by which the pathogen can induce (self) plant cell death, thereby increasing the chances of the pathogen’s success, was not just an exciting finding on its own, but a seminal contribution with long term implications on how we study, understand and deal with plant disease agents. In fact, proof of this was established by Marty (and co-workers) by translating it to an applied form – altering the cell death machinery in a plant (banana, as an economically important test case) in a manner that renders the fungal pathogen’s intervention in the process  far less effective. 


How did you get the idea of naming a fungus after him? 

Marty also loved the sea and loved surfing and diving and had shown interest in one of my additional fields of research – fungi from the marine environment. About 10 years ago, I isolated what appeared to be a novel species from a coral sample I collected in the Great Barrier reef. It took a long time to properly describe and name it, but naming it Epicoccum dickmanii was, in my opinion, an appropriate way to combine Marty’s love for fungi and his love for the sea in a manner that would honor him and his memory. 

Epicoccum dickmanii (family Didymellaceae) was isolated from the coral Acropora formosa exhibiting a brown band syndrome associated with stress. The new species sits on a unique branch of the genus Epicoccum with one closely related species – E. duchesneae (very appropriately- a plant pathogen). We currently know very little about the biology and ecological significance of E. dickmanii, but in at least some Epicoccum spp. are known as potential biocontrol agents against phytopathogens (including a species shown to control S. sclerotiorum) and for their ability to produce a variety of biologically active secondary metabolites. Future research may prove that naming this species after Marty may be even more relevant than originally thought. 

1 – A “historical” meeting between Marty and Oded 

2 – Pycnidia (left) and conidia (right) of Epicoccum dickmanii (photos by Qian Chen, State Key Laboratory of Mycology Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences). 

If you wish to read more about this species. The fungus is described in: Hou, L.W., Groenewald, J.Z., Pfenning, L.H., Yarden, O., Crous, P.W. and Cai, L. 2020. The Phoma-like dilemma. Stud. Mycol. 96: 309-396. 

BARD-funded research projects: 


Role of Phosphorylation in Fungal Spore   Germination


Pathogenicity and Sclerotial   Development of Sclerotinia sclerotiorum: Involvement of Oxalic Acid   and Chitin Synthesis


Regulation of Early Events in Hyphal   Elongation, Branching and Differentiation of Filamentous Fungi


Phosphorylative Transduction of   Developmental and Pathogenicity-Related Cues in Sclerotinia Sclerotiorum


Involvement of the PKA and MAPK signal   transduction pathways in sclerotial morphogenesis in Sclerotinia   sclerotiorum


Modulation of the Redox Climate and   Phosphatase Signaling in a Necrotroph: An Axis for Inter- and Intra-cellular   Communication that Regulates Development and Pathogenicity


Genetic and chemical intervention in   ROS signaling pathways affecting development and pathogenicity of   Sclerotinia sclerotiorum


Characterization of the chorismate   mutase effector (SsCm1) from Sclerotinia sclerotiorum


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