School field courses in Hertfordshire and Snowdonia stimulated the interest of this year's President, Roger Plumb, in things biological - especially botanical, and mainly of plants without obvious flowers! He remembers looking for Lloydia serotina, but cannot remember finding it, and planting a Metasequoia glyptostroboides on an island in Snowdonia, and investigating the effects of light intensity on the sporulation of ferns with Walter Schwabe. In 1959 he visited, by bicycle, Rothamsted, which was to play such an important part in his future career. The main memories of that visit were of visiting the Park Grass experiment and then the Wellingtonias in the Manor garden.
He was introduced to plant pathology, as a botany undergraduate at
Southampton, through lectures and practical classes given by John Manners.
When, after graduation, he was offered the choice of an ecological or plant
pathological Ph.D. project, the choice was not easy. It was a time
of great expansion at Southampton, post Robbins Report, with new buildings
and new equipment in prospect, and it was probably as much because plant
pathology offered more apparent opportunities of playing with the new equipment
than did ecology that led him to work on host-parasite relationships of
Erysiphe graminis and wheat, under the supervision of John Manners
and the plant physiologist Alan Myers. It will come as a surprise
to those more familiar with Roger's recent career that much of those three
years was spent peering down an electron microscope or "twiddling" DNA
out of tubes on a glass rod. However, a balance was maintained
by 'field visits' (usually unrelated), to the Dorset coast and the New
Forest for spiritual and liquid refreshment, although the New Forest was
a happy hunting ground on fungus forays with John Manners.
His Ph.D. complete, a job was required. Fortunately, little plant virology was taught at universities in those days (or now?) so Roger's lack of experience in this area was not seen as a bar to being interviewed for a post at Rothamsted to work on cereal and grass viruses. He recalls being passed between a succession of senior scientists, many of them FRSs: Jim Hirst, Fred Kleczkowski, Basil Kassanis, Marion Watson, Adrian Gibbs, culminating in an interview with Sir Fred Bawden. In the absence of much common scientific ground these interviews were 'interesting'. One of the most prophetic comments made was that "you will not win any Nobel Prizes driving round in a Land Rover". The only recollection that Roger has of his interview with Fred Bawden was that rugby and cricket featured.
However, something must have gone right as he was offered the post, although Jim Hirst, the Head of Department, felt the need to send a separate letter ." In view of your lack of experience in this area can we view the appointment as temporary". There then followed a very happy association with Rothamsted of over 33 years!
He learnt the virologist's trade from Basil Kassanis in the laboratory and Marion Watson in the glasshouse and field. The work quickly focussed on barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV), then an interesting, but relatively minor, concern of cereal growers in the UK. When Marion Watson retired in 1970 Roger took responsibility for the cereal virus work, and also the grass virus studies with the Grassland Research Institute, Hurley - mainly with Jack Heard. For the next 25 years a range of viruses attracted his interest, although BYDV was always the principal component of the work. Changes in agricultural practice, especially the switch to more winter-sown cereals sown earlier than the traditional October, conspired to make BYDV a very important, and sometimes limiting, factor in cereal cultivation. He greatly appreciated the opportunities this gave for field visits, usually by invitation and often in the company of colleagues from ADAS. This gave him first hand experience of farming in much of England and Wales and while the initial stimulus for the visit was BYDV or a grass "problem", discussions with farmers about all matters was both a bonus and a pleasure. The discovery of the effectiveness of autumn-applied aphicide sprays in controlling BYDV were effectively linked to his studies on the epidemiology of BYDV and led to attempts at forecasting based on vector infectivity which is still at the core of efforts to control the virus.
Because BYDV, in its various forms, occurs wherever cereals are grown, his work took him to other parts of Europe, Kenya and South Africa, links with CIMMYT in Mexico, and a six month period as visiting scientist at the Plant Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. He also worked on a range of grass viruses, especially the mite-transmitted ryegrass mosaic virus, the fungally transmitted viruses of oats and barley and the hopper-transmitted viruses of wheat and oats.
In 1973 he was asked to visit the Solomon Islands to help with studies of apparent virus infection of edible Araceae, especially Taro (Colocasia esculenta) and this stimulated a continuing interest in virus diseases of tropical crops. He has had close links with India, especially West Bengal.
Practical science began to take a less prominent part in his activities in 1984 after he became Head of the Plant Pathology Department and subsequently Head of Division and Deputy Director at IACR- Rothamsted. He was also a member of The Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee for many years and is now a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the British Beet Research Organisation. He took early retirement in 1999 and was very honoured to be offered a Lawes Trust Senior Fellowship at Rothamsted. This allows him to keep in touch with plant pathology without the administrative hassle.
In his Presidential year Roger hopes to try and raise the profile of
plant pathology and the contribution it has made, and can make in the future,
to that elusive current requirement of "sustainability" in food and fibre
production in an environmentally sensitive way. He is also concerned that
increasing specialisation has sometimes come to mean that people think
of themselves as molecular biologists, mycologists, epidemiologists etc.
first rather than plant pathologists. He would hope to reassert the
primacy of plant pathology to which many other disciplines contribute.
Dr Miles Armstrong, of SCRI, whose interests include genetics of nematode pathogens of potato and tomato.
Dr Bryony Banks, of SCRI, whose interests include the molecular genetics of potato cyst nematodes and root knot nematodes.
Dr Vivian Blok, of SCRI, whose interests include molecular biology and resistance in nematodes.
Alan Brunt, who has joined the editorial board of New Disease Reports.
Mr Giles Budge, from CSL, whose interests include molecular diagnostics.
Dr Barry Cunfer, of the University of Georgia, USA, a member of the editorial board of New Disease Reports.
Ms Maria Eckert, a postgraduate student at IACR-Rothamsted, working on Leptosphaeria maculans in oilseed rape.
Dr Roger Evans, from Queen Mary and Westfield College, whose interests include fungal pathogens of agricultural crops.
Goulielmos Garifallou, a bursary award winner from the University of Wolverhampton.
Miss Elizabeth Harper, from the University of Bangor, whose interests include the epidemiology of Phytopthora in potato and onions.
Dr Nigel Harrison, of the University of Florida, USA, who has joined the editorial board of New Disease Reports.
Monique Hospers, of the Louis Bolk Institute, the Netherlands.
Dr Jeanne M E Jacobs, of Crop Food and Research, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Dr Phil Jones, of IACR-Rothamsted, who has joined the editorial board of New Disease Reports.
Mr Vinodh Krishnamurty, a postgraduate student at HRI Wellesbourne, working on molecular diagnostics for Verticillium in cereal crops and potato.
Dr Amar Kumar, of SCRI, whose interests include the molecular biology and resistance of potato cyst nematodes.
Dr Christophe Lacomme, of SCRI, whose interests include the molecular and cell biology of cereal pathogens.
Prof. Mark D Laing of the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Natal, South Africa.
David A R McQueen, from the University of Manitoba, Canada, whose interests include post harvest pathology of Phytopthora in potato.
Ms Alexandra Norman, a postgraduate student at the John Innes Centre, working on the molecular biology of geminivirus.
Dr Mike Pearson, of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, who has joined the editorial board of New Disease Reports.
Mr Ray Perrett, a postgraduate student at the University of the West of England, working on the molecular biology of Pseudomonas pathogens.
Mark Phillips, of SCRI, whose interests include resistance in Globodera mezoidogyne.
Dr Stuart Rutherford, of the Sugar Association Experimental Station, South Africa, whose interests include the molecular biology of resistance in fungal pathogens of sugar cane.
Dr N W Schaad, from the USDA, who has joined the editorial board of Plant Pathology.
Dr H David Shew, of North Carolina State University, USA.
Dr Nina Shishkoff, of the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center, USA, who has joined the editorial board of New Disease Reports.
Dr Emine M Soylu, of Mustafa Kemal University, Turkey, whose interests include resistance of fungal pathogens in cereal and citrus crops.
Mr John M Staveley, a student at Pershore College, working on the epidemiology of Sclerotinia in vegetable crops.
Dr David Stead, of CSL, who is on the editorial board of New Disease Reports.
Miss Nawsheen Taleb, a postgraduate student from Mauritius, working on the molecular biology of resistance in Phytopthora and Magnapothe.
Dr Anmin Wan, from the Institute of Plant Pathology, Beijing, whose interests include resistance to rusts and powdery mildews in cereal crops.