In 2023, Professor Diane Saunders of the John Innes Centre in Norwich was nominated for the BSPP RKS Wood Prize by Prof Sophien Kamoun and Cesaree Morier-Gxoyiya. We are pleased to announce that Diane has accepted this award and will be giving a lecture on her achievements at our conference Plant Pathology 2024.
The RKS Wood prize is named and awarded in honour of Professor RKS Wood to acknowledge his role in driving the establishment of the discipline “Physiological Plant Pathology”. The prize celebrates excellent science in the study of plant disease biology and its application in the protection of plants against pathogens. You can read more and see our previous winners by following this link.
Professor Diane Saunders, based at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, is a highly respected scientist in the field of plant pathology. We are pleased to announce that she has been awarded the BSPP RKS Wood Prize in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the field.
Prof Saunders is internationally renowned for her work in understanding the interactions between plants and pathogens, with a particular focus on combatting global plant diseases, including cereal rusts. Since founding her research group in 2014, Prof Saunders has made significant advancements in plant protection. Notably, she developed the field pathogenomics technique, allowing for the direct capture of pathogen and host transcriptome profiles from infected field samples. This innovative approach led to the identification of the wheat gene TaBCAT1, crucial for the virulence of yellow and stem rust. She is now collaborating with wheat breeders to utilize this knowledge for enhancing resistance in elite germplasm.
Additionally, Prof Saunders created the Mobile and Real-time PLant disEase (MARPLE) Diagnostics, a genomic-based method for rapid fungal disease diagnostics in the field. This tool provides results within just two days of sample collection, proving invaluable for managing disease outbreaks.
Her impact extends beyond research, as she actively supports the global deployment of MARPLE Diagnostics and advocates for open science. Her contributions have been instrumental in addressing plant disease emergencies, including the detection of wheat stem rust in the UK and Ireland and the identification of Ash dieback in the UK, as well as the first outbreak of wheat blast in Bangladesh.
Prof Saunders’s dedication to public engagement and gender diversity in wheat research further exemplifies her commitment to making a difference in her field. She has raised awareness about plant health through various media appearances and initiated the Rosalind Franklin Women in Wheat Champions mentoring program, supporting early-career women scientists.
In conclusion, Prof Saunders’s work has had a profound impact on the understanding of plant-pathogen interactions and agriculture. Her innovative research and dedication to mentoring young scientists make her a deserving recipient of the BSPP RKS Wood Prize, a recognition that will undoubtedly inspire future researchers to follow in her footsteps.