Michael Wingfield 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 40 Faces Home Page.
Institution and country of residence
Forestry and Agricultural Biotehnology Institute (FABI), University of Pretoria, South Africa
Professor in FABI and Advisor to the Executive of the University of Pretoria
Area of expertise/study
My interest is on the health of trees and woody plants. I have had the great privilege of working on tree health problems in many different parts of the world. These have included working (mostly with students and colleagues) on diseases both in natural forest ecosystems as well as those affecting plantation forestry. I have had wonderful opportunities to work on new and emerging disease problems globally and specifically to discover, for the first time, the causal agents of some of the most devastating diseases affecting commercial forestry operations. Broadly, my interest lies in developing a better understanding of the pathways of movement of tree pests and pathogens. In this regard, the last 20 years (or so) have been most rewarding due to the powerful molecular biology tools that enable us to increasingly trace the origins of tree pathogens. They are also making a huge difference in our ability to reduce the impact of these diseases through improved quarantine, breeding and selection for disease tolerance etc.
About your early experiences in education
I was educated up to the Master of Science level in South Africa. Having had bursary support and thus DEBT, I was tasked (not my choice at the time!) with the lofty goal of establishing a first Forest Pathology programme for the Country. This led to an opportunity to undertake a PhD at the University of Minnesota (USA) and thus to work with accomplished forest pathologists. After this, I returned to my home country to build local ‘tree health” capacity. Part of my education (at least informally) has been building the Institute known as FABI.
If you could solve one problem in plant pathology, what would it be?
The global movement of tree pests and pathogens is a huge problem that continues unabated. The problem that I would love to be able to solve would be to protect forests from invasive alien pathogens. Improved (and meaningful) quarantine must be part of the solution. Public awareness of the problem and better engagement between plant pathologists and those determining Government Policy would help greatly.
If you could solve one issue relating to inclusivity and diversity within the field of plant pathology what would it be?
I live on a continent where there is tremendous inequality. Where there are young people with fabulous potential to contribute to the broad aims of plant pathology. I would love to see greater opportunities for them to succeed.
If you weren’t a plant pathologist, what would you be?
I have had a wonderful career as a plant pathologist. Admittedly, I fell into this profession rather accidentally -en route to an education in medicine. I would have been a very unhappy medical doctor. If I were not a plant pathologist (and knew what it was like to be one) I would want to be a plant pathologist.