Sophien Kamoun has been awarded the 2021 RKS Wood prize and will deliver his talk on Wednesday 8th December at the joint BSPP Presidential / EFPP meeting ‘Our Plants, Our Future’ in Birmingham. 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.
Sophien Kamoun grew up in Tunisia where he developed a passion and curiosity about nature. He studied genetics at Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris, before joining the University of California where he obtained a Ph.D. in Genetics in 1991. He then was a postdoctoral fellow at the NSF Center for Engineering Plants for Resistance Against Pathogens, UC Davis, and at the Department of Phytopathology, Wageningen University, Netherlands. From 1998-2007, Professor Kamoun was on the faculty at the Ohio State University, Department of Plant Pathology, Wooster campus. He joined The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich, UK, in 2007 and served as Head of Laboratory from 2009 to 2014. He also holds the rank of Professor of Biology at The University of East Anglia.
Professor Kamoun is known for his seminal contributions to our understanding of plant diseases and plant immunity. He pioneered genomics and molecular biology methods to reveal fundamental insights into the biology and evolution of eukaryotic plant pathogens. He discovered virulence effector families from pathogenic oomycetes and fungi, and showed how they can modulate plant immunity. He demonstrated how antagonistic coevolution with host plants has impacted the architecture of pathogen genomes, accelerated the evolution of effector genes, and drove the emergence of immune receptors networks.
Professor Kamoun inventive work in plant pathology has resulted in new approaches to mitigate some of the world’s most serious crop diseases. He and collaborators used archived herbarium samples to sequence the genomes of historic strains of Phytophthora infestans, revealing the identity and origin of the Irish strain collected in 1846 during the potato blight outbreak associated with the Irish famine. Kamoun’s focus on current plant disease outbreaks led him to describe the unique genomic features of an aggressive P. infestans lineage, colloquially known as “superblight”, which emerged in 2004 and displaced other genotypes across Great Britain in less than three years. This work was among the first examples to illustrate how pathogen population monitoring, combined with genome analysis, can inform the management of a devastating plant disease epidemic. Most recently, he designed and coordinated an open science population genomics project in response to the February 2016 wheat blast outbreak in Bangladesh, which revealed within weeks that the epidemic was caused by a South American lineage of the blast fungus pathogen, and therefore most likely introduced to South Asia from South America. Earlier this year, he helped demonstrate that the same clonal lineage of the wheat blast fungus has now reached Africa sparking a wheat blast pandemic.
Professor Kamoun has received many awards and recognitions. He is a Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher (2014-present). He received the American Phytopathological Society Syngenta Award in 2003, the Ohio State University Pomerene Teaching Award in 2004, the WE. Krauss Award in 2006, the Daiwa Adrian Prize in 2010, and the APS Noel Keen Award in 2013. He was recognized by award of the Kuwait Prize 2017 and the Linnean Medal 2018 in recognition of his contributions to the science of plant pathology. He was elected to Academia Europaea in 2011, EMBO in 2015, and Royal Society in 2018. He has won successive European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Investigator grants in 2011 and 2017.
For more information about the RKS Wood Prize and to view past winners RKS Wood Prize – BSPP – The British Society for Plant Pathology