Prof. Gary Foster has been awarded the 2024 BSPP Honorary Membership as recognition of his outstanding contributions to plant pathology. Nominated by Dr Andy Bailey (Bristol), Gary now joins an esteemed list of Plant Pathologists who receive free life time membership to our society.
Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Gary pursued his higher education at Queen’s University Belfast, where he obtained his BSc in microbiology in 1986. His passion for the subject led him to complete a doctorate from the same institution in 1990 under the supervision of Peter Mills, focussing on molecular characterisation of Potato Virus S. Gary then moved to the University of Leicester where he undertook postdoctoral research and then an AFRC (now BBSRC) Advance Research Fellowship. In 1996, Gary joined the University of Bristol, eventually becoming Professor in Molecular Plant Pathology. His work has covered areas including plant virology, plant pathology, molecular mycology, and even extended to biotechnology with projects on drug discovery and manipulation, leading to more than 150 primary research papers. In his own words, “My research is focused on investigating a range of interconnecting themes…” which gives a clear indication of his integrated approach to science, but through all this the common core of the research has been plant viruses.
He has authored various books and book chapters on plant virology and most recently has contributed to the new 6th Edition of Agrios’ Plant Pathology. For his contributions to the biological sciences, Foster was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in 2011.
As an active supporter of the BSPP, Gary has served in various committee roles, eventually serving as president in 2015. The timing of this role allowed him to showcase the then newly constructed Life Sciences Building at Bristol during his presidential conference, as he had been a major player in its design and construction. During his time on BSPP board, the society underwent major changes, with appointment of dedicated staff to support communications, outreach and major improvements to its online presence. Perhaps the most significant impact was the society launching the journal Molecular Plant Pathology where Gary was Editor in Chief from its launch in 2000 through to 2012 – the journal rapidly established itself and it continues to be a leading publication in this area.
Beyond individual research, Gary has been deeply involved in collaborative efforts working in various committee roles, such as the Advisory Committee for Novel Foods and Processes at the time when GM plants were at their most controversial. An effective (some might say loud and often outspoken) communicator, Gary has taught plant pathology with passion and humour, inspiring many students to continue with the subject. Anyone who has followed his twitter feed will know the impact he can have. He has mentored numerous Ph.D. students and fostered collaborations across the globe. Most recently, as the co-director of the CONNECTED project, he has played a pivotal role in supporting research on vector-borne plant viruses in Africa, helping to bring together numerous early career researchers across the various research projects, meetings and training sessions.
In summary, Gary Foster’s dedication and contributions to plant virology and molecular biology have left an enduring mark on the field. Through his research, collaborations, and mentorships, he has made a tangible difference in the scientific community.
Dr Andy Bailey