Christopher Lewis Schardl
Christopher Lewis Schardl was born in Oxford, England, of American parents on July 31, 1957. Growing up, he resided in several locations in the United States and Canada. He earned his B.S. degree in biochemistry, with distinction, from Cornell University in 1978. He received his Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from the University of California, Davis, in 1983, having conducted his dissertation research with Clarence Kado on Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Dr. Schardl then spent two years studying maize mitochondrial genetics with David Lonsdale and Richard Flavell as a postdoctoral scholar at the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge, England. Dr. Schardl became an assistant professor in plant pathology at the University of Kentucky in 1985, having been hired as the department’s first bona fide molecular biologist. He was charged with bringing genetic and molecular skills to bear while developing major research and instructional efforts in the area of plant–parasite interactions. These goals were accomplished in exceptional fashion, and Dr. Schardl was promoted to associate professor, with tenure, in 1991 and to professor in 1997. In 1988, Dr. Schardl’s accomplishments were already such that he received a three-year Special Faculty Grant (developed as a recognition-of-excellence award) from the University President David Roselle. A particular highlight of Professor Schardl’s early years at the University of Kentucky was his receipt, in 1989, of a McKnight Award for Individual Research Projects in Plant Biology. The McKnight Foundation provided grants to only ten outstanding scientists across the nation conducting basic research in plant biology as it relates to agriculture. The intent was to support gifted individuals who had conducted research for two to six years while promoting new initiatives in plant biology. This national recognition of Professor Schardl’s remarkable research talents, which entailed a three-year, $105,000 grant, underscored his distinction as an exceptional junior member of the faculty. In 1992 and 1993, the National Science Foundation, through its international program, supported Dr. Schardl for a sabbatical in New Zealand, spent with Barry Scott at Massey University and Garry Latch at the AgResearch Grasslands Institute in Palmerston North. In 2001, Dr. Schardl was appointed to the first endowed chair in the plant pathology department, namely the Harry E. Wheeler Chair in Plant Mycology.
Although Dr. Schardl has applied his molecular skills and analytical mind to legume–Fusarium, tobacco blue mold, and other pathosystems, the fungal endophytes of pasture grasses have become his forte. His profound contributions to this latter research area have made him an international authority—indeed, a world leader on the molecular genetics and evolution of these fungal endophytes. The endophytic fungal symbionts confer apparent ecological advantages to their host grasses, enhancing pest resistance, drought tolerance, nutrient acquisition, and plant growth. To the farmer, however, there are disadvantages, since livestock grazing endophyte-infected grass suffer seasonal toxicoses that are a major economic detriment. Dr. Schardl accepted the dual challenges of elucidating fundamental biological interactions between endophyte and host and of attempting to modify the interactions so as to retain their advantages to the grass host while diminishing or abolishing the deleterious consequences to large animal herbivores. These issues represent major intellectual puzzles, and their resolutions will reap substantial practical benefit. National agencies, research foundations, and corporate support have consistently funded Dr. Schardl’s research. The business sector is interested in utilizing endophytes for crop-improvement purposes, since the endophytes confer advantages to the durability of grasses used in pasture, soil conservation, mine reclamation, and turf. Over the years, Dr. Schardl has become the hub around which a variety of research endeavors have developed. Visiting scholars from other parts of the United States as well as Switzerland, Germany, and New Zealand have sought out Dr. Schardl’s laboratory to enhance their expertise. Grass endophytes have long been within the purview of plant pathology because of their production of mycotoxins, which affect livestock, and their abilities to combat insects, nematodes, and some fungal pathogens. Furthermore, Dr. Schardl has documented the relationships of these symbionts with agents of “grass choke disease” and ergot, and in doing so, he has provided the most extensive documentation of evolution from plant pathogen to mutualist. He has demonstrated a key role in this process for interspecific hybridization, a previously underappreciated phenomenon in fungi.
Recognition of Dr. Schardl’s standing among fungal molecular geneticists is substantial and is reflected not only in the many grants he has received, but also in numerous invited review articles and many invitations to speak at national and international conferences.
Dr. Schardl has published his research findings widely in refereed journals. Several articles have appeared in such prestigious journals as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, Nature, Genetics, and Cell. Dr. Schardl’s publications, then, are not only considerable in number but, more noteworthy, are of the highest scientific caliber. Particular note should be made of his sole authorship of a chapter in the 1997 Annual Review of Phytopathology. Dr. Schardl served as a panel member for the USDA’s National Research Initiative Competitive Grants program in 1995 and 1999, USDA-IFAFS in 2000, and USDA-SBIR in 2001, and on an NSF panel in 1999. He has served, or continues to serve, as an associate editor for three journals: Phytopathology, Mycologia, and Fungal Genetics and Biology.
Dr. Schardl has been an active member of APS. In addition to serving as an associate editor of Phytopathology, he has been a member of the following committees: Phyllosphere Microbiology; Biochemistry, Physiology, and Molecular Biology; and Biotechnology Regulation Impact Assessment. He has given three invited talks and two workshop presentations at APS annual meetings. Furthermore, his graduate and postdoctoral students have consistently participated in APS annual and regional meetings, where they have made a total of 23 presentations since 1987. Dr. Schardl has also contributed substantial support to the Mycological Society of America’s activities, serving as a councilor for molecular biology and on its Long-Term Planning Committee.