Frederick E. Gildow received a B.S. degree in zoology in 1970 from Ohio University. After serving in the Army Reserve from 1970 to 1971, he resumed his graduate education and received an M.S. degree in botany in 1974 from Ohio University. He then transferred to Cornell University and earned his Ph.D. degree in plant pathology in 1980, working in plant virology with William F. Rochow. Gildow then moved directly to an assistant professor position in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of California-Berkley and in 1983 joined the faculty in the Department of Plant Pathology at The Pennsylvania State University, where he moved through the faculty ranks. In 2009, he became the head of the newly renamed Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology.
Throughout his career, Gildow has shown an unusual ability to contribute substantially to both fundamental and applied research on viral diseases by integrating knowledge and tools in virology, plant pathology, and entomology through collaboration, as well as become an exemplary teacher and mentor. As evidence of his accomplishments, Gildow was awarded the Gamma Sigma Delta (national agriculture honor society) Penn State Chapter Outstanding Teaching Award in 2007. In addition to many service activities in the university, Gildow has extensive mentoring activities, including serving on the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Committee for Enhancement of Undergraduate Research, mentoring in the Penn State Women in Science and Engineering Research (WISER) Program, and hosting students in the Penn State Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.
Gildow is prominently recognized for his ground-breaking work on the circulative transmission of luteoviruses by aphids. His early work with mentor Bill Rochow, the father of luteovirology, gained him recognition as one of the leading electron microscopists studying virus–insect interactions. Gildow first defined the ultrastructure of how luteoviruses moved through the salivary system of their aphid vectors. His continuing work with Rochow on how luteoviruses compete for attachment and movement through the salivary glands characterized the vector-specific nature of luteovirus transmission. Gildow later expanded his work to describe the ultrastructure and specificity of virus movement in the aphid gut and hemocoel. His subsequent collaborations with several labs around the world further defined the molecular and cellular mechanisms of luteovirus movement and survival within aphid vectors. In collaboration with Kari Peters, Stewart Gray, and Peter Palukaitis, ultrastructural studies completed in Gildow’s lab indicate that poleroviruses have evolved a mechanism restricting the virus to phloem in order to enhance aphid transmission. This is the first description of such a mechanism, an alternative to previous dogma that the phloem restriction is the result of missing elements, such as movement proteins. Due in large part to his work, the luteovirus aphid system has become the most studied and best understood model of how any virus is able to circulate through its insect vector.
Many researchers have sought Gildow’s expertise in pathogen–insect interactions and he has contributed significantly to the understanding of how many other viral and bacterial pathogens take advantage of insects or other arthropods to ensure their transmission to other hosts. In addition to his fundamental work on insect–virus interactions, Gildow has contributed greatly to an understanding of the etiology, epidemiology, and management of several other pathogens affecting U.S. agriculture. Most recently, Gildow was one of the lead scientist in an interagency team to understand and eradicate Plum pox virus (PPV) from Pennsylvania. His efforts to develop appropriate sampling and diagnostic methods, coupled with studies on PPV host adaptation and defining the important aphid vectors, have contributed to the successful eradication of PPV in Pennsylvania and cleared the path for the restoration of the stone fruit industry there.
Gildow is an exemplary teacher who devotes much time and energy into providing students with informative lectures and meaningful laboratory exercises. Gildow team-taught Plant Pathology Concepts from 1987 through 1994. That course was then modified by Gildow to create Microbe–Plant Interactions: Plant Disease and Biological Control, a course that he has taught alone since that time. That laboratory-intensive course is designed for senior undergraduates and beginning graduate students. Gildow has mastered the tremendous challenge of successfully presenting that course to a great diversity of students, diverse in scientific interests, educational backgrounds, and academic goals. He has consistently been able to meet the needs of undergraduate and graduate students, as evidenced by consistently outstanding student evaluations. His course is recognized by the plant pathology faculty as the anchor of its curriculum and the department’s window to our science for students throughout Penn State. It has attracted undergraduates from other colleges to our department to take his and other courses and to participate in research projects. The majority of students participating in undergraduate research in the department first heard of plant pathology through Gildow’s course. One such student graduated and went on to participate in an NIH predoctoral fellowship, in part based on his undergrad research experiences gained through our department. Gildow is now focusing his academic experiences in assisting his faculty in developing and expanding the reach of the newly defined Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology at Penn State University.