Jan Leach wins highest award in plant pathology

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JAN LEACH, an international authority on how plants resist disease-causing microbes, has received the Award of Distinction from the American Phytopathological Society (APS). APS is the largest professional organization of plant pathologists in the world, with members dedicated to the study and control of plant diseases.

The Award of Distinction is the highest honor the society can bestow and is presented only “on rare occasions to persons who have made truly exceptional contributions to plant pathology.” In the 112-year history of APS, only 16 individuals have previously received this honor. Leach will be presented the award virtually on Aug. 4 during the APS annual meeting “Plant Health” that was to have been held in Denver.

“I am thrilled and overwhelmed by this tremendous honor,” said Leach who is with the Colorado State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “Of course, the honor is the culmination of efforts of my current and past lab members and our wonderful international collaborators.”

A history of plant disease research at CSU

Leach joined the Department of Agricultural Biology at CSU in 2004. She was appointed University Distinguished Professor in 2007. She currently serves as the Research Associate Dean for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Leach has devoted her career to understanding how to stabilize plant disease resistance to reduce crop losses. The impact of her work is increased by her ability to collaborate with international scientists in diverse fields. Leach’s work provided the first rational approach to predicting how long disease resistance in a crop would last in the field. This discovery allows crop improvement experts to select the most useful, long-lasting resistances prior to the intensive breeding efforts to introduce them into favorite varieties. Leach’s international collaborative team also discovered multiple genes that confer resistance to diverse types of plant pathogens, and demonstrated that accumulation of these genes can confer highly effective broad-spectrum resistance in the field.

Leach served on the APS Public Policy Board for 16 years, advocating for agriculture. She is a member of the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources of the US National Academy of Sciences. She is in great demand as a lecturer nationally and internationally on molecular plant-microbe-environment interactions. She served as editor-in-chief of Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, the primary international journal for the International Society for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions (ISMPMI). She is currently the president of the International Society of Plant Pathology, past president of APS and ISMPMI, and a past chair for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS Section O:  Agriculture, Food and Renewable Resources).

Leach has received numerous other honors in recognition of her accomplishments, including the Agropolis Fondation Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize for Agriculture and Food, University Distinguished Professor at Kansas State University; E.C. Stakman Award from the University of Minnesota; and the Irvin Youngberg Award from the University of Kansas. She is an elected Fellow of three societies: APS, the American Academy of Microbiology, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).