Virginia Tech™home

John Jelesko

Associate Professor
John Jelesko
548 Latham Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24061



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

Program Focus

Poison ivy ecology and molecular biology.  My research program focuses on the North American noxious plants poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. These plant species are widely known for their production of urushiol, an alkylphenol responsible for causing allergenic dermatitis symptoms in humans (aka poison ivy/oak/sumac rash).  Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels result in increased poison ivy invasiveness and the production of more noxious forms of urushiol. Despite the predicted increase in poison ivy invasiveness and toxicity due to climate change, astonishingly little is known about poison ivy ecology and urushiol biosynthesis. Therefore, my group is pursuing studies into both poison ivy ecology and the molecular biology of urushiol production. Long term goals of my research program are to develop novel methods of poison ivy weed control as well as using synthetic biology methods to produce urushiols suitable for high-value material science applications.

Fungal biocontrol of weedy and invasive alkylphenol producing plants. We identified a native fungal species responsible for severe wilting of poison ivy seedlings, but is otherwise an endophyte on common forest plant species. Interestingly, this same fungal species is reported to be an entomopathogen on an invasive exotic insect of hemlock forests. The molecular basis of for this intra-phyla pathogenesis profile is a topic of interest. This fungus provides new opportunities for safe fungal biocontrol of emerging poison ivy and exotic invasive Anacardiaceae species in managed landscapes and recreation areas.

Courses Taught

  • PPWS 5234 – Applies Statistics for Plant and Environmental Science.
  • PPWS 2104 – Plants, Genes, and People
  • ALS 2404 – Biotechnology in a Global Society

Other Teaching and Advising

  • Mentoring graduate and undergraduate researchers to become skilled practitioners in scientific inquiry is both challenging and immensely gratifying.  This begins with teaching undergraduate researchers specific laboratory skills, but then transitions to teaching the student to apply these skills to answer specific biological questions.  The goal of mentoring graduate students is to closely integrate the formulating of testable biological questions with state-of-the-art technologies with which to answer those scientific questions.  This requires attentive supervision by the advisor, and curiosity and self motivation by the student.  With time and experience the student develops intellectual independence and advanced technical skills, whereby they develop into a skilled scientist.  It is extremely gratifying to be a part of the graduate training process and watch my student’s careers develop in subsequent years.
  • I am a participating faculty member of the Interdepartmental Translational Plant Science program.  This is a peer to peer effort on campus of molecular plant science oriented faculty members working collaboratively to recruit new graduate students to Virginia Tech and strengthen the molecular plant science activities and resources on campus.  The TPS program is organized and run by collaborating faculty who rotate through various roles and responsibilities.  

Fellow | 2013
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 

Visiting Associate Professor | July – December 2013
Univ. California San Francisco, Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Six month sabbatical leave in Prof. Matthew Jacobson’s laboratory learning computational protein modeling and ligand docking.

Associate Professor | 2007 – present
Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science Department
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.

Assistant Professor | 2000 – 2007
Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science Department
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg

Associate Specialist | 1998 – 2000
Plant Biology Department
University of California, Berkeley

Visiting Researcher | 1997 – 1998
Hitachi Advanced Research Laboratories, Saitama, Japan

Postdoctoral Fellow | 1992 – 1998
Plant Biology Department, University of California, Berkeley

  • 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. Lott, A. A.; Baklajian, E. R.; Dickinson, C. C.; Collakova, E.; Jelesko, J. G., Accession-level differentiation of urushiol levels, and identification of cardanols in nascent emerged poison ivy seedlings. Molecules, 2019, 24(23):e4213.
  2. Lott, A. A.; Freed, C. P.; Dickinson, C. C.; Whitehead, S. R.; Collakova, E.; Jelesko, J. G., Poison ivy hairy root cultures enable a stable transformation system suitable for detailed investigation of urushiol metabolism. Plant Direct 2020, 4(8):e00243.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5.  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
  6.  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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Benhase, B., and Jelesko, J. G. 2013, Germinating and Culturing Axenic Poison Ivy Seedlings. HortScience, 48:1-5.
  11.  Zhao, B., Agblevor, F., 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..
  12.  Price, M. B., Jelesko, J., Okumoto, S., 2012, Glutamate receptor homologs in plants: Functions and Evolutionary Origins, Frontiers in Plant Traffic and Transport, 3:235.
  13.  Jelesko, J. G., 2012, An expanding role for purine uptake permease –like transporters in plant secondary metabolism, Frontiers in Plant Physiology, 3:78.
  14.  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.
  15.  Kasarda, M. E., Terpenny, J. P., Inman, D., Precoda, K. R., Jelesko, J., Sahin, A., and Park, J., 2007. Design for adaptability (DFAD) – a new concept for achieving sustainable design. Robotics and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing. 23:727-734.
  16.  Lightbourn, G. J., Jelesko, J. G. and Veilleux, R. E., 2007. Retrotransposon-based markers from potato monoploids used in somatic hybridization. Genome 50:492-502.
  17.  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.
  18.  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.
  19. 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.
  20.  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.
  21.  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.
  22.  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.
  23.  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.
  24.  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.
  25.  Deng, F., Jelesko, J., Cramer, C. L., Wu, J., and Hatzios, K. K., 2003. Use of an antisense gene to characterize glutathione S-transferase functions in transformed suspension-cultured rice cells and calli. Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology 75:27-37.