If you don’t know a lot about plant pathology, you probably have plenty of company. But if you don’t know what being the very best is, you’re probably alone.
So it is that we congratulate Kansas State University’s Department of Plant Pathology for being named the No. 1 department of 162 in the nation by the National Research Council.
John F. Leslie, head of the department and a university distinguished professor of plant pathology, credited the efforts of “an extraordinarily diverse group of talented faculty, staff and students” for the honor. That’s appropriate, and especially worth noting because, as he pointed out, most of the department’s staff were hired as entry-level assistant professors who over time acquired the expertise and contacts that have helped the department excel. The department’s excellence also is testimony to the importance of retaining high-quality faculty, whether they’re teachers or researchers.
As for plant pathology, in short, it’s the study of plant diseases and the organisms and environmental factors that cause diseases. As Dr. Leslie noted on the department’s website, there’s more to it than that. The department, for instance, offers programs “in molecular biology and genetics of pathogenesis and host plant resistance, fungal genetics, wheat cytogenetics and improvement, as well as classical plant pathology and extension.” Got all that?
The department’s mission is a bit clearer. It’s to “understand and improve plant health”
Researchers study the interaction between plants and pests and the effects of the environment on that interaction. Researchers also modify plants to help them fight disease and boost yield, transferring genes from wild plants to crops to improve genetic diversity.
As the website notes, researchers also study bacteria, fungi, viruses and nematodes; biological control, biotechnology, disease management and physiology, ecology and epidemiology and a host of other pursuits associated with plants.
Their overarching purpose is to better understand life. Research on plant genomics helps define gene function in other life forms, including humans. Our reliance on plants is overwhelming; they feed us, clothe and often protect us. Plants are, as the website states, “crucial to our existence.”
And so, arguably, are the folks at K-State who perform the research that helps improve plant health. They’re among the best in their fields, attracting millions of dollars in outside grants for research, sharing their knowledge with their peers through articles in respected journals and winning a succession of honors not just from KSU but from professional societies as well.
Again, congratulations, and thanks for the important and fascinating work you do.