Explore the world of plants and all the creatures that live in and on them…Plants are amazing! Did you know that nearly all of the Oxygen we need to breathe in the air comes from plants? Or have you ever thought how important plants are for the food that we eat?
In 2020, the world celebrated the International Year of Plant Health and the first Plant Defenders started their journeys of plant discovery. Luca Steel – the founding Plant Defender – has led over 5,000 junior plant enthusiasts through the “Plant Defenders” unofficial Girlguiding Challenge Badge.
The British Society for Plant Pathology helped launch these unofficial Girlguiding challenge badges and DEFRA now also support this campaign (one address per unit). There are more badges available; therefore you must contact Luca to check badge availability before starting!
Find out here, with the BSPP, what you can do to become a Plant Defender. Explore the world of Izzy the Inspector and be inspired by our many senior Plant Defenders who work across the world to protect the health of our precious plants.
Izzy the Inspector
Hi, I’m Izzy the Inspector and I love my fascinating job as a plant inspector. I look at plants in garden centres, trees in the woods and fruit and vegetables arriving at airports. I look to see if there are any pests on them, or if they are healthy or sick. A pest is a living thing that can hurt plants. Let me tell you why plants are important and why we need to keep them healthy. Maybe you can help?
DID YOU KNOW..
Plants feed us: 80% of the food we eat comes from plants.
Plants help us breathe: plants produce 98% of the oxygen we breathe.
Plants reduce pollution: plants help remove pollution from the air, which means we have cleaner air to breathe.
Plants are home to wildlife: oak trees in the UK can have over 2,000 different animals, plants and fungi living on and in them.
Real Life Plant Defenders
Plant Pathologists defend the health of plants across the world. We are a huge community of experts that spend all of our time exploring plants and how we can protect them for our food, fuel, clothes and the places we live in.
Girlguides met these Plant Defenders during their challenges to discover who has already taken on the professional challenge of protecting our plants.
Helping vegetables live longer!
Hi, I am Lindsay. I work as a plant scientist in Edinburgh. My special area of study is postharvest immunity in vegetables. Up to 50% of all vegetables grown will be wasted; a real problem when we need to feed a growing world population. So I am trying to help plants live longer after they have been picked. My work involves growing plants in my lab, giving them diseases, measuring their responses, and finding the best way to explain what I see. In my spare time I love to learn languages, read novels and play with my two young children.
Greek plant doctor
I am a Greek plant pathologist. I love plants and their interactions with microbes! I fell in love with plant pathology during my very early stages of university and have been studying it evxer since! Currently, I am working with a fungus (mould) that is causing disease on the leaves of wheat plants, making them unable to photosynthesize.
My research is focusing on how the plant can be resistant to the fungus. My work involves measuring photosynthesis out in the field but also a lot of work in the lab trying to identify important genes. Understanding what happens inside the plant when it is attacked by fungus is extremely important in order to keep providing the world with safe and healthy food.
I’m a plant pathologist and professor at Kansas State University. Here in the United States, Kansas is known for producing grain crops such as wheat. However, in my job, I help our farmers who produce fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, and other “specialty crops.”
I help them understand microbes/germs that can reduce the quality and yield of their crops. I help them diagnose the problems and figure out how to handle them. It’s just like being a doctor, except I’m a doctor for plants instead of people.
Plant health carer, South Africa
I work in plant health. I use the words ‘plant health’ rather than ‘plant disease’ because I believe we need to keep crops healthy as much as manage disease. I am adamant that information scientists discover should be shared, so I make a lot of radio content about plant diseases. My goal is to empower producers and agri-chemical companies, to reduce risk due to plant diseases and promote sustainable crop production.
Agustina De Francesco
I was born in Argentina and am passionate about plants and sciences. My research deals with diseases of citrus (like lemons and oranges). When a citrus tree is infected with pathogens, they show symptoms, like yellowing in leaves, then a general decay appears and eventually death.
My expertise brought me to the University of California. I’m trying to control the spread of citrus disease here, to save citrus trees and the production of citrus fruits. Without research on plant health we will not have fresh orange juice to drink!
Dr Sally Mallowa
Mama, wife, daughter, sibling friend!! The Kenyan native is a cassava specialist and trained plant pathologist! Currently serves as food security, biology for non-majors and Kenya study abroad instructor at Augustana University, excited to be the 2023 faculty of the year!
She is a science communication and outreach ambassador (locally and internationally) – host of a middle school summer STEM camp, North Central Regional director for JSHS , and serves on council for the American Phyto pathological Society (APS). Sally is a co-founder of Sam & Hannah Obura Awards that raises tuition scholarships for Kenyan high schoolers.
I am a researcher at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. My work looks at starch, which is a carbohydrate made by plants. High starch foods, like potatoes, rice and wheat, are a really good source of energy and are an important part of our diets. But, plants high in starch aren’t just important as food. Starch from plants is also used in industry to make glues and bioplastics, strengthen cardboard and in the laundering of clothes.
Although we use starch for all these different things, we still don’t know a lot about how starch is made in the plant. If we can understand this process, we could increase the amount of starch plants make, improve the starch being made by plants, and even tailor starch for different uses.
Microbes and Mentoring!
I study how microbes cause disease in plants. I am particularly interested in how bacteria infect plants and mushrooms and how environmental factors such as climate change, pollution and fertilisers affect disease development. I grew up in Bolton, where I was involved in Girlguiding from Brownies through to Rangers.
I became interested in plant diseases while studying at the University of Cambridge, and studied in the USA before returning to the UK to work at the University of Oxford. I became a research group leader in 2001.
Now in addition to carrying out my own research, I run a training programme that supports researchers who are beginning their careers as scientists. I am also involved in helping students from diverse backgrounds decide whether to apply to study at the University of Oxford and to choose a career in science. My job is very rewarding, because I not only get to carry out exciting and important research, but I also get to work with talented young scientists.
Root microbe warrior
I studied science at school but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do afterwards. In the end, I decided to study biology in Madrid, Spain. I then studied Environmental Microbiology where I got to know the amazing microbes that live in the plant-roots and how good they are for our crops (plants we eat). Afterwards, I got the opportunity of going to Switzerland, to get my PhD in biological control of pest insects. I’m currently working in Madrid on wheat diseases and how we can use friendly fungi to protect our cereals.
I love dogs, eating cheese, and being a Brownie and Guide leader! I am a scientist and I work on tiny germs (pathogens) that make plants poorly. I try to find out how plants get ill, and what we can do to stop that. I’m a bit like a detective for plants! I mainly work on germs that infect wheat, which is a really important plant. Wheat is in most types of bread, pasta, cake, biscuit, and pastry- so it’s important that we keep it healthy! My favourite thing about my job is using a microscope to see things that are so tiny that they’re almost invisible, and getting to discover brand new things about germs.
I investigate the role of special helpful bacteria in plant growth. These bacteria can help plants grow bigger than usual! These bacteria can protect plants from germs, and even help to decontaminate soil which is polluted. I also look at the genome (all of the DNA) of helpful bacteria that live on rice. I now live in Germany, working in the lab.
Saving our beans!
I am at university in Nepal. I am work on how to test for and manage a fascinating pathogen called ‘rhizoctonia root rot’. This disease makes bean plants sick. There isn’t much research into this disease on beans yet. I’m interested in all things that make plants poorly, like bacteria, viruses, fungus (mould) and nematodes (tiny worms).
I study interactions between plants and microbes. My research is on treating unhealthy or stressed plants with beneficial microbes. I would like to do more work and explore how beneficial microbes affect the plant immune system. I would like to try to improve the DNA of bacteria and plants – using DNA from insects! I hope this will help mankind have enough nutritious food. I am hoping to make illuminious light (glow-in-the-dark) in harmful microbes, to help detect diseases
Kara studies trees, looking for insects, fungi, or damage that can stress trees and make them unhealthy. She spent 7 years training in Forest Health in Maine, USA, She now works for the US Forest Service as a Forest Pathologist in Montana. Kara is really interested in insects and fungi that are native (from the local area), that have started acting differently and are now damaging or killing trees. Kara also uses tree-ring science (dendrochronolgy) as a tool to figure out how long a tree has been damaged, when it died, and how the tree reacted to the insect or fungus. Her research projects work with other scientists, forestry professionals, and community members to make sure trees and forests stay healthy
Dr Chloe Maclaren
Cropping Systems Ecologist
Chloe grew up in New Zealand and studied ecology at University – the science of how plants and animals live together in their environment. Her first research projects took her to some very exotic locations, including cloudforestsin Ecuador and desert mountains in Oman. Working in those places was amazing, but it quickly became clear how vulnerable the plants and wildlife were to climate change. Chloe wanted to do more to protect them, so she shifted into agricultural research. Farming covers over a third of the world’s land and may produce up to a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, but is essential to feed the human population, so it is really important that we can learn to farm without damaging nature. Chloe now works at Rothamsted Research in the UK, where she applies her knowledge of how different plants and animals live together to design ways of farming that can support healthy crops, healthy people, and a healthy environment.
Plant disease professional
Hi, my name is Vanessa Vassilaros (Campoverde) and I am a plant pathologist who likes to help growers with facts to prevent and or cure plant diseases. I am originally from Peru in South America. I have been working for over 20 years with crops, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and now with berry plants, too. I learned so many aspects of growing sustainable crops from the best ways to use soil and water, preventing pests, climate protection, and scouting for good bugs and plant helpers against invasive pests. I have worked with many different organisations and enjoy volunteering for schools and community activities. I also volunteered as an international expert to help growers in rural areas in other countries. It is called “Farmer to Farmer advisor” Let me know how to help you understand and share cool facts about agriculture and plant protection.
I’m a plant doctor (plant pathologist) whose job is to help farmers find out what is making their crops sick, and how they can make them feel better. Just as a doctor would tell mums and dads what to do to make sure that their kids are strong and healthy, I share tips with farmers on how to prevent their crops from getting sick. At present, I am working on a cancer-like disease on fruit trees. I am part of a team of plant doctors who help farmers treat diseases caused by bugs (pests) and moulds (fungi) on Eucalyptus and pine trees. I am also part of a team of researchers who look at how many microbes are there in an environment, and what these microbes do. My job is important because I make sure farmers are able to grow more crops. We eat these crops as food that will nourish us so we can grow and be healthy.
Meet some of the senior Plant Defenders in our society and hear what’s important to them and what they do to protect plants with our 40 faces.