University of Minnesota
College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
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Department of Plant Pathology

E.C. Stakman

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Elvin Charles Stakman (1885-1979) was born on a farm near Algoma, Wisconsin, but grew up in the village of Brownton, Minnesota. He received his M.A. in 1910 and his Ph.D. in 1913. He was a rare combination of careful scientist, near universal scholar, invigorating educator and dynamic public speaker. He discovered physiolological races in the wheat stem rust fungus. These are parasitic strains the look alike under the microscope but differ in their virulence on wheat varieties. This knowledge revolutionized understanding of this most ancient and devastating plant disease. It led to a national barberry eradication program to eliminate the plant host, upon which the stem rust fungus recombined its genes, helping it form new "races." Monitoring the stem rust fungus race situation on the Great Plains led to successful science-based breeding for resistance to stem rust of wheat and other rusts of cereals. Among Stakman's many distinguished students and alums were Harold H. Flor, Helen Hart, J. George Harrar, Norman Borlaug, and Sir Bent Skovmand. Stakman's entire career was spent in Plant Pathology at Minnesota, but he was at times a Special Agent of the USDA in charge of cereal rust investigations in North America, and a consultant to the Rockefeller Foundation. He and his students, J.G. Harrar and Norman Borlaug were responsible for the seminal events leading to the mid 20th century "Green Revolution" in agriculture, for which Norman Borlaug received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. Elvin Stakman was an extraordinary, powerful 20th century figure in the biological sciences. He received countless awards and in the 1950's was named one of the 100 men most important men in the world. His biography, written by C.M Christensen and entitled "E.C. Stakman, Statesman of Science" is an accurate and lucid portrayal of this scientist/teacher/humanist.

Further Reading

E. C. Stakman, Statesman of Science