Gerry Saddler is one of our ’40 Faces of Plant Pathology’
BSPP members can be found in 51 different countries, with 30% of members based in countries outside of the UK. As part of the BSPPs 40th anniversary, we asked our membership to describe some things about themselves, what plant pathology challenges they would most like to see solved, and what could improve the world of plant pathology in terms of inclusivity. Click here to return to the 40 Faces Home Page.
Institution and country of residence
SASA, The Scottish Government, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Chief Plant Health Officer for Scotland and Head of SASA
Area of expertise/study
I trained as a bacterial taxonomist and after a brief spell in pharmaceutical industry I moved to CABI Bioscience where I provided a diagnostic service for bacterial plant pathogens in support of developing country agriculture. My research interests were primarily focused on the bacterial pathogen of potato, Ralstonia solanacearum; its characterisation and disease management. After 12 years at CABI I left to join SASA, a division of the Scottish Government which is responsible for oversight of arable agriculture in Scotland, and have maintained my interest in bacterial pathogens of potatoes, expanding out to study Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. sepedonicus, Dickeya spp. and Pectobacterium spp., again with particular focus on strain characterisation, disease epidemiology and working alongside growers to develop effective management strategies. Throughout this work I have been fortunate to have established productive and lasting collaborative relationships, in particular with Julian Smith (now at Rothamsted Research) but previously when we both worked at CABI and more recently with Ian Toth (James Hutton Institute), John Elphinstone (recently retired from Fera), and Stuart Wale (SRUC).
About your early experiences in education
Unlike others I can’t claim to have developed an interest in the natural world from an early age. What really got me enthused and set me on the course to develop my career was studying microbiology at University. It struck me at the time, and still does, that this was/is a science with endless possibilities with many things still to explore. I also have my PhD supervisor to thanks for mentoring me and giving me the training which I still rely to this day.
If you could solve one problem in plant pathology, what would it be?
Not sure I want to as surely that would put me out of a job! Blackleg disease of potatoes has been an intractable problem going back decades, working out the interplay between different sources of infection, why the disease runs rampant in some crops and not others, why it can surge and retreat from one generation to the other; all these mysteries would be good to uncover.
If you could solve one issue relating to inclusivity and diversity within the field of plant pathology what would it be?
We need to establish career pathways that do not disadvantage on the basis of gender, race and disability. Science, particularly with regards to senior positions, is still very much the pursuit of white, able-bodied men. This undoubtedly diminishes our talent pool so we need explore ways to make our workplaces more welcoming and able to support colleagues throughout their careers.
If you weren’t a plant pathologist, what would you be?
Definitely a bacterial taxonomist, not for everyone I concede, but I really enjoyed my time as PhD student and although I have subsequently used this training to give me a grounded approach to pathogen detection and identification. It would be good to study bacterial diversity just for the sheer hell of it.