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Plant pathologist Maxwell receives international ag award

Doug Maxwell, a town of Verona resident and emeritus professor of plant pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, received the Chair’s Award for Scientific Excellence from the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development at a ceremony Feb. 4 in Washington, D.C. BIFAD is an advisory board to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The award recognizes research and training efforts 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.

“As a scientist, Professor Maxwell’s work has broadened our understanding of geminiviruses of vegetables, helping to detect and control transmission of this serious threat to the world”s food supply,” said U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin at the ceremony. “As an educator, he has instructed and inspired countless numbers of students and personally nurtured the work of dozens of scientists around the world, forging personal relationships and collaboration, sometimes at great personal risk. As a humanitarian, his research has improved innumerable lives by strengthening and protecting vital food sources around the world,” she said.

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, tomato and melon 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.

With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Maxwell has developed molecular techniques now used worldwide to detect geminiviruses. These methods have allowed implementation of disease management strategies. For example, in the Dominican Republic, a strategy to control these viral diseases of beans and tomatoes has stabilized bean production and increased tomato production by 70 percent. In the Middle East, Caribbean and Central America, tomatoes with resistance to these viruses are being developed through a collaborative effort. Currently, Maxwell and his colleagues have research projects in Guatemala, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestinian National Authority, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan.

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 of Agricultural and Life Science”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. The annual Chair”s Award for Scientific Excellence 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.