Plant Pathology

Jun 14, 2013 Debra Cheung


To expand basic knowledge regarding the biology and ecology of plant-infecting microbes, the etiology and epidemiology of plant diseases, and interactions between hosts and pathogens. To apply that knowledge toward development of rational disease control strategies.


The department consists of 16 Senate faculty, two AES scientists, and five CE specialists for a total of 3.95 I&R, 14.6 OR, and 4.05 CE FTE. Three USDA scientists are housed in the department and hold Lecturer (WOS) appointments. By 2006, five faculty (1.00 I&R, 3.00 OR and 1.00 CE FTE) will have reached age 65. Also, two of the three USDA scientists will reach age 65 during the planning window. If the USDA does not refill these positions, or worse, chooses to transfer the remaining individual, we could lose important programs relating to diseases of perennial crops. These programs and their associated support have been part of our department for decades, and have reduced the need for College support of this area.

Major Programmatic Thrusts of the Department (current)

  • Organismal biology (mycology, bacteriology, virology)
  • Etiology, epidemiology and forecasting of plant diseases
  • Soil and rhizosphere microbiology
  • Genetic structure of microbe and plant populations
  • Molecular mechanisms of plant-microbe interactions and applications to disease control.

Major Programmatic Thrusts of the Department (5-10 years)

No changes in the thrust areas themselves, although technological advances are creating opportunities for new approaches within them.

Program Impact/Ranking

Our graduate program has consistently placed in the 85th-95th percentile (in a field of approximately 30 plant pathology programs nationwide). Since 1980, three members of our faculty have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Many others have received national and international awards for research, teaching and extension.

Extramural Grants and Gifts

Direct cost expenditures for 96/97, 97/98 and 98/99 were $3,257,600, $3,597,506, and 3,949,480, respectively. Fund sources include NSF, NIH, NRI, USDA, DANR, and numerous foundations, commodity boards, and industry sources. These figures do not account for faculty research activities that are administered outside the department (e.g., through CEPRAP). The area of "Molecular Mechanisms of Plant-Microbe Interactions" attracts the highest portion of grant funds.

Teaching Programs of the Department

The department offers programs of study leading to the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in plant pathology. Program enrollments consistently average 35 students, with another 30 students from other graduate groups studying under our faculty.

In addition to graduate courses, our faculty teaches undergraduate courses in Plant Pathology, Plant Biology and Science & Society. The Student Credit Hours recorded to our faculty for 96/97, 97/98, and 98/99 were 2,806, 3,195, and 3154, respectively. There is no undergraduate major in plant pathology, but in 1998-99 we gained approval for an undergraduate minor in fungal biology and ecology. Our graduate courses are mostly laboratory courses taught in special-use teaching labs. Our undergraduate courses are split between lecture-based and laboratory-based offerings. We anticipate no significant change in graduate student enrollments as the size of our program seems to mesh well with placement opportunities. We anticipate that the four-year trend of growth in our undergraduate offerings will sustain over the next several years.

Outreach/Extension Roles

The Plant Pathology Cooperative Extension programs are organized largely along commodity lines. CE specialists engage in research emphasizing two broad themes: disease etiology and epidemiology and disease control. Because we have one specialist at the Kearney Agricultural Center and another at the USDA/UC research facility in Salinas, there is some geographic division of responsibility for improved efficiency. Projecting into the future, we are cautious about the sustainability of the external (non-UC) support for operation of the Salinas station, and concerned about the lack of CE specialist support for the many advisors who work with ornamentals.

Potential for Collaborative Links to Other Units to Develop Clusters of Excellence

The department is becoming a nucleus for crop genomics in the college and it is taking the leadership to further develop this area in collaboration with other departments. Several faculty are active in the rhizosphere biology and will contribute to this program area. Faculty active in ecology and computer applications to agriculture can make significant contributions to joint projects with other units.

Positions Needed to Improve Research, Teaching and Extension Goals

  1. Functional genomics of bacteria emphasizing phytopathogenicity, phylloplane ecology and responses to microenvironments. Necessary to sustain excellence in phytobacteriology.
  2. A rhizosphere microbiologist to emphasize the area of inter-organismal signaling and to build upon our cluster in "soil and rhizosphere microbiology."
  3. Plant-microbe proteomics; to build upon our Plant-Microbe Interactions cluster through research on the cascade of protein-protein signaling events that occurs between organisms during disease initiation.
  4. A plant virologist with emphasis on cell-to-cell, plant-to-plant and long-distance movement, including pollen transmission and virus-vector interactions.
  5. A natural ecosystems plant pathologist to build upon our strengths in plant pathology and to open up an important new area of research in forestry and landscape-scale phytopathology.
  6. Host-pathogen population genetics; to sustain the department' core strength in genetics and research into the stability of disease resistance genes in plant populations.
  7. A position in fungal genomics to build upon our strong mycology programs and to expand departmental emphasis in the functional genomics of plant-microbe interactions.
  8. A CE specialist to lead statewide plant pathology programs in ornamental, nursery and landscape plants.
  9. A CE specialist to lead orchard crop disease programs throughout the Central Valley.

"Zero-Sum" Strategy (2006)

I&R/OR positions 1& 2 would be top priorities and would be achieved via retirement replacements. Positions 3&4 and CE position #2 also could be achieved through retirement replacements. All other positions would not be attainable under a no-growth scenario, although programmatic movement in these directions could be achieved in a longer term (2008) as more retirements come due.

"10-Percent Initiative-based Growth" Strategy

(=1.0 I&R FTE) Given an opportunity for one growth position, Position #7 would move higher up on the list (probably to position #4) and would be justified as a new position under the Genomics initiative. Absorbing a 1.0 I&R FTE position into the department would require internal reassignment of I&R / OR to achieve a reasonable split. Replacement positions would remain in the same relative order. CE priority #1 is not tied to campus initiatives. It should be dealt with separately. It links solidly into DANR' "25 highest program priorities in the area of agricultural resources."

Projected Resource Needs and Strategies for Achieving

The greatest need is for increased amount and quality of space (we presently occupy only 70 percent of what college guidelines recommend) so programs can achieve their natural carrying capacity. A five-year plan has been developed to meet our space needs. This plan must stay on target or our most productive faculty could be lost to more attractive situations.

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