I was born as a Canadian in Bogota, Colombia, and grew up in Peru and Jamaica before moving to Ottawa, Canada at the age of ten. Perhaps wanting to be better than good ol' dad the meat scientist, I figured out by age 15 that I would study plant biology. I began my profession at the University of Ottawa focused on the chemical ecology of medicinal plants with John Arnason, moved on to a M.Sc. in wood genetics at the University of British Columbia with the late Carl Douglas and finished a PhD with Manish Raizada from the University of Guelph in microbial ecology of maize. I've further enriched my plant biology experience as a visiting researcher at Biodiversity International in Italy (education policy), at the International Potato Research Institute in Peru (nutrient genetics of potatoes), at EMBRAPA Agrobiology in Brazil (microbial ecology of maize) and most recently at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia (dynamics of plant microbiomes). I conducted post-doctoral research with George Lazarovits at the company A&L Biologicals where I focused on discovering what causes an emerging disease called tomato vine decline. Having discovered the most abundant parts of the maize microbiome are transmitted through seed (a surprise to the entire field of plant microbial ecology), I then went on to help start the endophyte focused company Indigo Agriculture where I was bioprospecting for beneficial microbes, studying plant microbiomes, testing formulations for seed inoculants, and assaying plant-microbe interactions in field trials, all with the goal of developing yield enhancing probiotics for plants. Most of Indigo Agriculture's patents are based on my discoveries, which laid the foundation for it to become the most well funded agricultural startup company on Earth. Seeking new challenges, I have since moved to Cali, Colombia to study the plant microbial ecology of one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, working as Principle Investigator and Max Planck Tandem Group Leader at Universidad del Valle in cooperation with Paul Schulze-Lefert at the MP Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, Germany.
My ongoing interests include microbial ecology, chemical ecology, crop science, plant physiology and genetics, metagenomics, plant microbiome research, functional genomics, biodiversity conservation and plant agriculture. I plan to have a long career of discovering biological novelty, developing biotechnologies for agriculture and helping to conserve biodiversity while contributing to sustainable development. This passion for ag biotech was the result of growing up with abundant nature all around, feeling wonder and hope about technology and the future (probably all the science fiction I read), and being awed by the incredible good my father (Dr. David Johnston Sr.) has accomplished working in agriculture.
Outside of work I pass the time scuba diving, hiking, playing squash or tennis, biking, movie watching, listening to music, dancing (salsa, house, ska), travelling (26 countries so far!) or trying to engage in esoteric conversations. Drop me a line if you want to talk science or collaboration, have Talmudic questions or want to chiacchierare in Italiano, fahlar em Portugues, platicar en Espanol ou dire quelque chose en Francais!