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Department of Plant Pathology

Plant Pathology Research Fair a Success

CFANS-PLPA-Research Fair1On April 7, the Department of Plant Pathology sponsored a well-attended Research Fair for UMN personnel, alumni, and friends. The afternoon event opened with a series of five Plant Pathology faculty speakers describing their research motivations, goals, and successes in short (~10 minute) presentations. Featured were Professors Corby Kistler, Senyu Chen, Matt Rouse, Carol Ishimaru, and Nevin Young. Next, was an informative poster session featuring 20+ posters presented by students, staff, and faculty. [Congrats to the “best poster winners” Karen Broz, Jordan Briggs, and Joshua Kielsmeier-Cook.] CFANS-PLPA-Research Fair2And, of course, there was a lot of socializing over snacks! The Research Fair was sponsored by the Department of Plant Pathology Research & Outreach Committee chaired by Professor Debby Samac (committee members: Professor Corby Kistler, Professor Matt Rouse, Professor Madeleine Smith, Dr. Ben Held, Dr. Pablo Olivera, and Mag McDermott). Special thanks to Carol Anderson, Anne Lageson, and Aaron Beczkiewicz for help with planning the event! Want a recap of the days events? Check out our Twitter feed (@UMNPlantPath).

Food Security Discussed at Regents Meeting

CFANS Interim Dean Brian Buhr and other CFANS faculty and staff gave presentations on critical areas of food safety at the University of Minnesota's Regents meeting on Friday, March 28, 2014. The Stakman-Borlaug Cereal Rust Center was highlighted as a leader in "providing excellence and a depth of expertise in crop pest and disease".

Peer Reviewed Publications - 2013

The Department of Plant Pathology tenured and adjunct faculty published 97 peer-reviewed publications in 2013.  Access the list of publications here.

UMN Plant Pathology Well Represented at BGRI 2014

CFANS-PLPA-BGRI2014 2Last week (March 22-28), CIMMYT hosted the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) 2014 meeting in Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, timed to coincide with the Borlaug100 celebrations. UMN was well represented at this meeting!
Graduate student Jordan Briggs won a graduate student competition award and presented his research, “Alterations in host transcriptional activity to rust pathogens” to an audience of ~450 attendees. Jordan also received travel support and a cash prize. Way to go, Jordan! Graduate student Josh Kielsmeier-Cook also attended the meeting and presented his research as a poster titled “A search for new resistance to Pgt race TTKSK in wheat-intergeneric hybrids and their derivatives”. Postdoc Dr. Pablo Olivera reported on his research to identify genetic resistance to stem rust, Assistant Professor Melania Figueroa gave an invited talk on the use of the model grass Brachypodium to study wheat stem rust effectors, Professor Les Szabo (USDA-ARS Cereal Disease Lab) presented an update on the Global Puccinia graminis tritici (PGT) Initiative, and Professor Jim Kolmer (USDA-ARS Cereal Disease Lab) presented on rust pathogen population dynamics. Professors Matt Rouse, Yue Jin, and Brian Steffenson were also in attendance.

Borlaug Sculpture to Grace St. Paul Campus

Borlaug_Sculpture3On March 27, 2014 the University of Minnesota community celebrated the legacy of our alumnus, Dr. Norman Borlaug in a touching and inspiring ceremony held at McNamara Center.  Among the highlights, CFANS Interim Dean Brian Buhr announced the formation of the Stakman-Borlaug Center for Sustainable Plant Health (we’ll have more on this soon!) and Jeanie Borlaug Laube (daughter of Norm), President Eric Kaler, and Regent Dean Johnson uncovered UMN’sBorlaug_Sculpture4 very own Borlaug sculpture!  The art piece, designed by artist Benjamin Victor, is amazingly detailed, showing Dr. Borlaug hard at work in the wheat fields.  The 7-foot, bronze sculpture is an exact replica (currently the only copy) of the sculpture that was installed in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol earlier this week.  The sculpture will reside outside on the St. Paul campus, forever telling the world of Dr. Borlaug’s important contributions to food security and highlighting his University of Minnesota roots.  We were honored to have Benjamin and Jeanie among our guests for the ceremony.

Dr. Norman Borlaug Turns 100

We are proud today to remember the significant scientific and humanitarian contributions of our alumnus, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug. Norman was born 100 years ago today (March 25, 2014) and the University of Minnesota was his alma mater. As an undergraduate student in forestry, he heard Dr. Elvin Stakman deliver a lecture called “Plant Diseases are Shifty Enemies”. This lecture and subsequent discussions with Elvin and other Plant Pathology faculty led Norman to pursue both MS (1941) and PhD (1942) degrees in Plant Pathology.

Starting in 1944, Norman worked in Mexico under fellow UMN Plant Pathology alumus J. George Harrar as a wheat geneticist as part of Rockefeller Foundation’s “Mexican Project” (which became modern day CIMMYT). Of course, Norman is best known for his innovative wheat improvement strategies and contributions to global food security. His efforts led to the Green Revolution, which provided food security for millions in East Asia and other parts of the world. Dr. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, the Presidential Medal of Freedom for humanitarian contributions in 1977, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2006.

Read more about Dr. Borlaug:
Learn about the Green Revolution:
Celebrate at UMN Borlaug100 Events:

The University of Minnesota and the World Celebrate Norman Borlaug’s Life: 100th Birthday

Worldwide, Dr. Norman Borlaug is the University of Minnesota’s most famous alum. He was a seminal figure in the 20th Century’s Green Revolution. This unprecedented, global achievement greatly increased the world’s food supply by improving crop plants and by fostering science-based agricultural education at the graduate level. The Green Revolution helped hundreds of millions to escape famine, misery and rural poverty. It brought prosperity, food security and educational opportunities to areas of the world heretofore considered hopeless. For a synopsis of Borlaug’s University of Minnesota education and highlights of his career as a plant pathologist/humanitarian, click here. To view a video highlighting the University of Minnesota Libraries' efforts at archiving the legacy of Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution click here.

Borlaug is one of three American citizens to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal.  On the 100th anniversary of Borlaug's birth -- March 25, 2014 -- a bronze statue will be enshrined in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC.

Various other celebrations will be held, like this one in Mexico, where Borlaug and his group, working for the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican government, produced the miracle wheats.

The University of Minnesota will honor Borlaug with three events open to the public. For details see the web site in item two. Briefly the events are as follows:

  1. On March 25 there will be a 100th Birthday Social at the Saint Paul Campus Student Union from 11:30 to 1:30. No registration required.
  2. On March 26 there will be the 5th Annual Norman Borlaug Panel Discussion at 6:30 pm in room 335 of Borlaug Hall on the Saint Paul Campus. Registration for this and the McNamara Center event is electronic – see the following web site.
  3. On March 27 at the McNamara Alumni Center (Minneapolis Campus) in the Memorial Room there will be a highlight celebration from 1:30 to 3:45 pm, followed by a reception from 3:45 to 5:30 pm.

Norman Borlaug passed away in 2009. An international monument and burial vault was constructed in his honor at the winter breeding station of CIMMYT outside of Obregon Mexico. For more information see

Alumna Dr. Mary Palm chosen to lead USDA's multi-agency response to combat citrus greening disease

Mary_PalmCongratulations to Dr. Mary Palm, chosen to lead the USDA's new emergency, multi-agency response framework to combat one of the most serious citrus diseases in the world: huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening).
Read more.

The Department of Plant Pathology welcomes three new graduate students for spring semester:

Dr. Brett Arenz Appointed as Teaching Assistant Professor in Plant Pathology

Congratulations to Dr. Brett Arenz on his appointment as a Teaching Assistant Professor in Plant Pathology! Brett brings a wealth of knowledge and contagious excitement towards teaching. In addition to developing and teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Plant Pathology, Brett will also assume the role of administrative director for the Plant Disease Clinic. In this capacity, he will work to more fully integrate PDC activities with the Department's teaching mission.

Visiting Scientist - Stakman-Borlaug Cereal Rust Center

PlPa-main-mertWe would like to welcome Dr. Zafer Mert, a Turkish scientist who will be spending three months as one of the trainees for the Stakman-Borlaug Cereal Rust Center. He is hosted by Drs. Steffenson and Figueroa, and will be homed at the Figueroa laboratory. Dr. Mert graduated from the Department of Plant Protection, Agriculture Faculty, Ankara University in 1999 and completed his MSc degree in 2003 and a PhD degree in 2010. 

Since 2000, Dr. Zafer Mert has been working for the Central Research Institute for Field Crops under the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock of Turkey. Currently, he is the coordinator of the Turkish National wheat rust diseases research program, which demands him to interact with more than 10 research institutions in his country. Additionally, he coordinates the screening of germplasm of IWWIP (International Winter Wheat Improvement Program) for resistance to yellow rust disease in Ankara. Dr. Mert is a very accomplished scientist; an expert in Barley Scald disease, Chickpea disease (Anthracnose), and Cereal Rust Diseases. As a visiting scientist in our department, he will be conducting genetic variation studies in populations of pathogenic fungi like Rhynchosporium secalis, Pyrenophora teres, Puccinia gaminis, and others.

Aurora Sporealis 2013


The 2013 edition of the Aurora Sporealis alumni newsletter is now available online! Read it HERE.
**We recommend right clicking on the link, choosing "Save Link As", and opening in a .pdf reader for the best viewing experience.

The 2013 edition of the Aurora Sporealis was edited by Brian Steffenson, designed by Renoir Gaither and contributed to by many members of the department. Thanks to all involved!

We'd like to get your updated information for the next Aurora mailing as well as personal or professional updates to include in future issues. Please submit updates via the Register for Updates form on the Stay Connected page of our site.

Plant Pathology Graduate Student Receives MnDrive Fellowship

Sara Bratsch, a Ph.D. student advised by Drs. Benham Lockhart and Neil Olszewski, has been awarded a 2014 graduate research fellowship by the MnDrive Initiative in Global Food Supply.  Sara's research focuses on the characterization of a novel proteinaceous disease-causing agent of Asteraceae (Pyrethrums and Sunflowers). The fellowship includes a stipend as well as additional funds for research costs.

E.C. Stakman Award - Nomination Deadline - January 31, 2014

The Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota requests nominations for the E.C. Stakman Award. The award is granted to individuals of any country and nationality of outstanding achievements in plant pathology. The award may be given for documented achievements in the areas of research, teaching, outreach, international development, or for any combination of these areas. Preference is given to candidates actively engaged in these areas; only occasionally will lifetime achievement awards be considered. 

More information about nomination requirements can be found here.

MnDrive Postdoctoral Fellowship Awarded

Drs. Scott Bates and Linda Kinkel have been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship through the MNDrive Initiative: Advancing Industry, Conserving our Environment. They will investigate the use of microbiological inocula as a means of protecting critical Minnesota potato crops from disease. 

Can Microbes Increase Crop Yields? 

Linda Kinkel, Professor of Plant Pathology, along with about two dozen other American Academy of Microbiology fellows, recently published a report titled “How Microbes Can Help Feed the World”. The report is a result of a two-day colloquium held in 2012 which examined “how plant microbe interactions could be employed to boost agricultural productivity in an environmentally and economically responsible way”.

Mining for Fungi

A new project in the department funded by the Minnesota Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (proceeds from the MN lottery fund) investigating the plethora of unusual fungi growing in the Soudan mine located near Ely, Minnesota. The iron ore mine, built in 1880, has 27 levels that extend miles down into the earth.


News Archive

Upcoming Events

Event: PLPA Seminar
The dark side of biological control
Kyle Haralson, PLPA Graduate Student
April 14, 2014
: 2:30 p.m.
365 Borlaug Hall

Past Seminars

Our Department in the News

Hole Notes Vol.48, No 1 January/February 2014
PlPa Assistant Professor, Angela Orshinsky and Brett Arenz, Assistant Teaching Professor and Director of the Plant Disease Clinic each contributed articles to Hole Notes: The Official publication of the MGSA (Minnesota Golf Course Superintendents Association).

Fungal Plant 205 - 26 November 2013 | Description Sheets: 276-277 | Persoonia 31, 2013: 188-296.
Custingophora blanchettei "Etymology. Named for Prof. Robert A. Blanchette, recognising his important contributions to the study of wood inhabiting fungi."

Survivors on Elm Street
| by Sara Specht | CFANS Solutions
"It does look like there is resistance out there," says Department of Plant Pathology professor Robert Blanchette. "We don't have too many trees to study, but there are a few and we'll find more with this project. These trees are selected for testing because they survive where most elms die. Not all of them survive inoculation but a few of them are looking very good."

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