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John Jelesko

Associate Professor
John Jelesko
548 Latham Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24061


I have a two-way appointment in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences (SPES) that entails 75% research and 25% teaching.  My research program focuses on plant specialized metabolism.  My current research focus is on urushiol chemical biology in plant species belonging to the genus of Toxicodendron (poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac) in North America.  I teach both graduate and undergraduate-level courses in SPES.


  • Plant specialized metabolism
  • Poison ivy urushiol metabolism and chemical ecology


  • Ph.D., Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, 1992
  • M.S., Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, 1988
  • B.S., Bacteriology, University of California, Davis, 1983

Urushiol is a Janus-faced plant natural product.  On one face, as a monomeric compound urushiol induces mild to severe delayed contact allergenic skin rashes on as many as 50 million people each year.  On the other face, it has inherent polymer chemistry in which it acts as a thermoset to polymerize into an aesthetically pleasing non-allergenic paint/lacquer natural coating with a variety of valuable material science properties.  Despite the pleasure and pain that urushiol imparts to humans, nearly all aspects of urushiol metabolism and chemical ecology are not well understood.  The Jelesko laboratory seeks to investigate all aspects of urushiol molecular biology and ecology by focusing mostly on poison ivy.  This urushiol research program seeks to fill important gaps in urushiol scientific knowledge, as well as develop a biosustainable urushiol production platform to support the thermoset material science needs of a future bio-based material economy.  

Courses Taught

  • PPWS 5234 – Applies Statistics for Plant and Environmental Science.
  • PPWS 2104 – Plants, Genes, and People


Associate Professor | 2007-present
School of Plant and Environmental Sciences & Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, Virginia Tech

Assistant Professor | 2000-2007
Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, Virginia Tech

Postdoctoral Fellow | 1992-2000
Plant Biology Department, University of California, Berkeley, Ca.

  • Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science Invitational Fellowship, 2022-23.
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow, 2013
  • Virginia Tech Center for Instructional Development and Education Research Teacher of the Week, 2012.
  • CIDER - Teacher of the Week Award, 2012
  • National Science Foundation - Center for Global Partnership Award, 1996
  • National Science Foundation - Postdoctoral Fellowship in Plant Biology, 1994
  • University of Washington - Predoctoral Plant Molecular Integration and Function Graduate Fellowship, 1991
  • National Institutes of Health - Predoctoral Traineeship in Developmental Biology, 1987
  1. Resler, L.M., Fry, J.T., Leman, S., and J.G. Jelesko. 2021, Assessing Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) Presence and Functional Traits in Relation to Land Cover and Biophysical Factors. Physical Geography, 45: 614-637.
  2. Dickinson, C.C., Jelesko, J.G., and J.N. Barney. 2021, Habitat Suitability and Establishment Limitations of a Problematic Liana. Plants, 10: 263.
  3. Lott, A.A., C.P. Freed, C.C. Dickinson, S.R. Whitehead, E. Collakova, and J.G. Jelesko, 2020, Poison ivy hairy root cultures enable a stable transformation system suitable for detailed investigation of urushiol metabolism. Plant Direct, 4(8): p. e00243.
  4. Lott, A.A.; Baklajian, E.R.; Dickinson, C.C.; Collakova, E., and J.G. Jelesko, 2019, Accession-Level Differentiation of Urushiol Levels, and Identification of Cardanols in Nascent Emerged Poison Ivy Seedlings. Molecules, 24, 4213.
  5. Dickinson, C.C., A.J. Weisberg, and J.G. Jelesko, 2018, Transient Heterologous Gene Expression Methods for Poison Ivy Leaf and Cotyledon Tissues. HortScience, 52: 242-246.
  6. Weisberg, A.J., G. Kim, J.H. Westwood, and J.G. Jelesko, 2017, Sequencing and de novo assembly of the Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy) transcriptome. Genes (Basel) 8, 317.
  7. Aziz, M., Sturtevant, D., Winston, J., Collakova, E., Jelesko, J. G., and K. D. Chapman, 2017, MALDI-MS Imaging of Urushiols in Poison Ivy Stem. Molecules, 22: 711
  8. Jelesko, J. G., Benhase, E. B., and J. N. Barney, 2017, Differential Responses to Light and Nutrient availability by Geographically Isolated Poison Ivy Accessions. Northeastern Naturalist, 24: 191-200.
  9. Kasson, M.T., J.R. Pollok, E.B. Benhase, and J.G. Jelesko, 2014, First Report of Seedling Blight of Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) by Colletotrichum fioriniae in Virginia. Plant Disease, 98: 995-996.
  10. Zhao, B., F. A. Agblevor and J. G. Jelesko (2014). "Enhanced production of hairy root metabolites using microbubble generator." Plant Cell Tissue and Organ Culture 117: 157-165.
  11. Dornfeld, C., A. J. Weisberg, C. R. K, N. Dudareva, J. G. Jelesko and H. A. Maeda (2014). "Phylobiochemical Characterization of Class-Ib Aspartate/Prephenate Aminotransferases Reveals Evolution of the Plant Arogenate Phenylalanine Pathway." Plant Cell 26: 3101-3114.
  12. Benhase, B., and Jelesko, J. G. 2013, Germinating and Culturing Axenic Poison Ivy Seedlings. HortScience, 48:1-5.
  13. Zhao, B., Agblevor, F., Ritesh, K.C., and Jelesko, J. G., 2013, Enhanced production of the alkaloid nicotine in hairy root cultures of Nicotiana tabacum L., Plant Cell, Tissue & Organ Culture, 113:121-129..
  14. Jelesko, J. G., 2012, An expanding role for purine uptake permease –like transporters in plant secondary metabolism, Frontiers in Plant Physiology, 3:78.
  15. Hildreth, S. B., Gehman, E. A., Yang, H., Lu, R.-H., K C, R., Harich, K., Yu, S., Lin, J., Sandoe, J. L., Okumoto, S., Murphy, A., Jelesko, J. G., 2011, A tobacco nicotine uptake permease affects alkaloid metabolism., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A., 108:18179-18184.
  16. Heim, W. G., Sykes, K. A., Hildreth, S. H., Lu, R-H., Sun, J., and Jelesko, J. G., 2007. Cloning and characterization of a Nicotiana tabacum methylputrescine oxidase transcript.  Phytochemistry 68:454-463.
  17. Kidd, S. K., Melillo, A. M., Lu, R-H., Reed, D. G., Kuno, N., Uchida, K., Furuya, M., and Jelesko, J. G., 2006. The A and B loci in tobacco regulate a network of stress response genes, few of which are associated with nicotine biosynthesis. Plant Molecular Biology 60:699-716.
  18. Heim, W. G., Lu, R-H., and Jelesko, J. G., 2006. Expression of the SAM recycling pathway in Nicotiana tabacum roots. Plant Science 170:835-834.
  19. Deng, F., Jelesko, J. G., and Hatzios K. K., 2006. Corrigendum to “Effects of glyphosate, chlorsulfuron, and methyl jasmonate on growth and alkaloid biosynthesis of jimsonweed. [Pestic. Biochem. Physiol. 82 (2005) 16-26]”. Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology 84:155.
  20. Jelesko, J. G., Carter, K., Kinoshita, Y., and Gruissem, W., 2005. Frequency and character of alternative somatic recombination fates during T-DNA integration. Molecular Genetics and Genomics 274:91-102.
  21. Heim, W. and Jelesko, J. G., 2004. Association of diamine oxidase and S-adenosylhomocysteine hydrolase in Nicotiana tabacum extracts. Plant Molecular Biology 56:299-308.
  22. Reed, D. G. and Jelesko, J. G., 2004. The A and B loci of Nicotiana tabacum have non-equivalent effects on the mRNA levels of four alkaloid biosynthetic genes. Plant Science 167:1123-1130.
  23. Jelesko, J. G., Carter, K., Thompson, W., Kinoshita, Y., and Gruissem W., 2004. Meiotic recombination between paralogous RBCSB genes on sister chromatids of Arabidopsis thaliana. Genetics 166:947-957.
  24. Jelesko, J. G., Harper, R., Furuya, M., and Gruissem, W., 1999. Unequal crossing-over leading to gene duplication and chimeric gene formation in Arabidopsis thaliana. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 96:10302-10307.