John Mansfield has been awarded the RKS Wood Prize (2023). John will deliver his presentation at Plant Pathology 2023 in Birmingham – 6-8th September. The 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.
John Mansfield and his co-workers have made several outstanding contributions to our understanding of plant-pathogen interactions and mechanisms of plant innate immunity. He has also had an important impact by applying research led teaching to pass on his enthusiasm for the all-embracing subject of plant pathology. Numerous former students and post-docs have gone on to establish careers in pathology and related disciplines both in the UK and overseas – not least this year’s President Rob Jackson.
Following a BSc in Agricultural Botany at UCNW Bangor he was fortunate to move to R.K.S. Wood’s department at Imperial College London for his PhD with Brian Deverall (1968-72), during a period of focus on the role of newly identified phytoalexins in disease resistance. His challenge was to examine the role of the antifungal plant metabolites in the resistance of Vicia faba to Botrytis species. The important concept of a balance operating between phytoalexin production by the plant and degradation by the adapted pathogen, modified by the speed at which the invading hyphae killed host cells, emerged from his early work. Research on phytoalexins and host specificity within Botrytis spp. was continued whilst lecturing at the University of Stirling (1972–80). The book, “Phytoalexins”, published in 1982, co-edited with John Bailey, remains a valuable text on the antimicrobial secondary metabolites.
At Stirling, electron microscopy was used to define the structural framework within which pathogens and plant cells interact. Moving to Wye College in 1981 allowed interests in the HR to be expanded. For the first time in plants, sub-cellular localisation of ROS was examined during the HR and as a component of cell wall-based resistance to bacterial colonisation. The importance of membrane damage as a critical primary event during the HR was established in bean, lettuce and Arabidopsis. Working closely with Ian Brown and colleagues from Helsinki, John was also able to visualize the delivery of effectors through the Hrp pilus, a component of the type III secretion system.
The power of molecular genetics emerging in the 80s was harnessed to clone avirulence (avr) genes from pathovars of Pseudomonas syringae that controlled not only varietal, but also non-host resistance. His group, in collaboration with colleagues at UWE, Bristol and HRI, achieved the first cloning of an effector through its virulence function (virPphA, now hopAR1). Two landmark papers demonstrating the suppression of the HR in bean by effector proteins HopAR1 and AvrPphF (now HopF1) have provided the framework for much of the current research on effector functions.
John’s academic career came full circle when he returned to Imperial after the closure of the Wye campus. Research has continued following his retirement through collaborations with nearby EMR on bacterial canker of cherry and also at home. The latter location, with a nearby source of apothecia, facilitated the development of the first reliable assay using ascospores to examine the infection of ash by Hymenoscyphus fraxineus and demonstration of a critical initially biotrophic phase of infection by the dieback pathogen.
As a founder member of the BSPP he has had significant roles within the Society, the highpoint being his Presidency of BSPP in 2000 which coincided with the launch of the journal Molecular Plant Pathology. John has had several editorial roles and has acted as a member of organizing committees, notably for the successful ICPP1998 and ICPPB 2006 meetings, both held in Edinburgh, and the 8th Symposium on Pseudomonas syringae and related pathogens, held in Oxford 2010. He was elected as an Honorary Member of the Society in 2010. It is particularly pleasing for John to receive this award given his links with Imperial and his mentor R.K.S. Wood.
For more information about the RKS Wood Prize and to view past winners RKS Wood Prize – BSPP – The British Society for Plant Pathology