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Plant Pathologist Maxwell Receives International Ag Award

Doug Maxwell, emeritus professor of plant pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has won this year”s Chair”s Award for Scientific Excellence from the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development.

The annual award recognizes an individual researcher or research team for a significant achievement originating from the U.S. Agency for International Development”s Collaborative Research Support Program. The award highlights the success of USAID and university collaborations, and recognizes work toward sustainable, environmentally friendly increases in food security and economic growth.

Maxwell”s international work has helped farmers manage diseases that damage vegetable crops in developing countries. His work has produced better methods to identify disease agents and programs to manage diseases in environmentally sensitive ways. Accurate diagnostic tools that Maxwell developed are now employed at laboratories — several of which he helped establish — in Wisconsin and around the world.

Maxwell has collaborated with scientists in the Caribbean, South America, Central America and the Middle East. He has hosted 29 scientists in his laboratory, most of them from developing countries. Largely as a result of his efforts, there are new plant disease laboratories in Egypt, The Palestinian Authority, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Honduras.

Maxwell has a distinguished career in university and professional service. In addition to chairing the Department of Plant Pathology for a decade, Maxwell has served as the College’s interim assistant dean of academic affairs, interim executive associate dean, and interim director of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.

BIFAD serves as an umbrella liaison between the U.S. Agency for International Development and the university community.
Maxwell has focused on geminiviruses, a group of viruses that is critically important in tropical and subtropical regions. In Latin America, for example, geminiviruses have repeatedly decimated bean production in many countries. Without effective ways to manage the viruses themselves, farmers in these regions have used enormous amounts of insecticides to control the whiteflies that spread the viruses.

Maxwell and his colleagues have:
– Developed molecular techniques now used worldwide to detect geminiviruses;
– Identified 25 geminiviruses, including four that attack beans;
– Demonstrated new strategies to interfere with viral replication; and
– Developed transgenic beans and tomatoes with resistance to the viruses.

Based on several of these advances, the Dominican Republic, for example, has now implemented a management strategy that has stabilized bean production there and increased tomato production by 70 percent after an introduced diseased decimated that crop.