Alumni Spotlight: Bob Bowden

May 1, 2018

Plant Pathology Alumnus Bob BowdenBob Bowden
M.S. 1981

Advisor: Jim Percich

Current employer/organization & position: Research Leader, USDA-ARS

Tell us about your current research or work involvements and their impacts.

I work primarily on resistance to wheat stripe rust, leaf rust, and stem rust. My students, colleagues, and I have discovered several useful new resistance genes in wheat wild relatives and cultivars. We have also produced new germplasm lines with these genes that are used as parents by public and private wheat breeders. We have collaborated with wheat breeders to develop many of the hard winter wheat varieties that are currently grown in the Central Plains states from Texas to South Dakota.

What's your passion? What do you love about your work and your field?

I love discovering new things and dissecting things to see how they work. Even though it is not new, my favorite tool is QTL analysis.  I am still impressed by how powerful it is to identify and characterize resistance genes and their interactions. We recently used it to dissect durable resistance to stem rust in the wheat cultivar ‘Kingbird’.

Why did you get involved with Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota? Tell us about your path to Plant Pathology.

I have always liked wild plants, which led me to the botany department as an undergrad at Michigan State University. I was also fascinated by microbiology. I took Introduction to Plant Pathology and it seemed like a perfect marriage of the two interests. When I applied to grad school at the University of Minnesota, Jim Percich offered me a chance to work on diseases of a new crop called wild rice, and I was hooked for good.

What's great about the Department of Plant Pathology?

The Department of Plant Pathology has always been staffed with the top people in the discipline. The department’s high reputation and impact are known worldwide. I am proud to be associated with the department.

What was your favorite moment from your time in the department?

My favorite time was when a group of students from Dr. Stewart’s mycology course went on a morel hunting foray to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park near Faribault. We saw lots of interesting fungi in addition to beautiful wildflowers including the elusive Showy Orchis. We came back with a nice bag of morels, which my lab partner, Ann, said she could fry up in some butter. As I recall, we had them with a nice bottle of white wine. Well, one thing led to another, and now we have been happily married for 34 years! Thanks, Plant Pathology!

Who was someone in the department who inspired you/made an impact on your career and why/how?

I was lucky that Bill Kennedy, the department’s plant bacteriologist, took an interest in me. He helped me track down the cause of three different new bacterial diseases of wild rice. He was a classical phytobacteriologist and showed me all the tricks of the trade for isolation, inoculation, and identification of phytobacteria. He also invited me to TA his course, which was a great experience.

How did your education at the U of M help prepare you for what you are doing today?

When I graduated with my M.S. in Plant Pathology from the department, I felt confident that I was a well-trained professional plant pathologist, ready to face the world. I think the most important thing was that my professors instilled a sense of scientific rigor that I didn’t have before. Experience in seminars helped me understand that scientific ideas can and should be challenged. Ideas that survive the tests are worthy of higher confidence and further work.

What advice do you have for current students (and future alumni)?

I would recommend budgeting plenty of time for professional development activities after you graduate. Things change rapidly; it’s easy to fall behind. Reading widely and going to high quality national or international scientific meetings often provides the spark or inspiration for that next grant or project.