Jeremy J. Burdon
Jeremy J. Burdon was born June 19, 1950, in Singapore. He graduated from the Australian National University in 1972 with a First Class Honors degree in botany and subsequently in 1976 with a doctorate focused on the epidemiology of airborne pathogens. He was awarded both a CSIRO postdoctoral fellowship and an 1851 Overseas Scholarship and used these to spend two years at the University College of North Wales studying the epidemiology of disease in varietal mixtures and the role of disease in plant communities. This latter topic is one that has been a central theme of much of his subsequent career.
In 1978, Burdon returned to Australia as a prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Fellow and joined the Division of Plant Industry, Vol. 94, No. 1, 2004 21 CSIRO. In 1980, he accepted a tenured position in the Division and has subsequently been promoted to the most senior research rank possible of Chief Research Scientist. In addition to running his own research program involving a senior research fellow and two postdoctoral scientists, Dr. Burdon is responsible for a significant administrative role as assistant chief of this Division of approximately 800 staff.
Over the 25 years of his professional career, Dr. Burdon has developed and maintained a range of interests integrating strategic and tactical research of agricultural and natural ecosystems to develop an understanding of the role of diseases as evolutionary forces shaping plant communities. He has applied this, and other pathological, epidemiological, and genetic knowledge, to more immediately practical pathogens, including the identification and prebreeding of alleles for resistance to Rhynchosporium secalis (scald of barley).
During his career, Dr. Burdon’s wide interests in plant–pathogen associations and his readiness to focus on questions anywhere along the strategic–tactical research continuum have led to his involvement in the use of fungal pathogens as weed biocontrol agents and in a program to utilize the wild genetic resources offered by Hordeum spontaneum as a source of resistance genes. His biocontrol research combines both basic and more applied work, ranging from studies aimed at enhancing control success rates to the release and monitoring of the rust pathogen Puccinia cardui-pycnocephali for the control of slender thistle (Carduus spp.) in southern Australia.
Overlying these interests are two major topics that have been recurring themes in Dr. Burdon’s career and are perhaps the areas for which he is most well known: (i) the sources and maintenance of variation in pathogen populations and (ii) the role of pathogens as selective agents in natural plant populations and communities. Dr. Burdon’s interest in the structure of pathogen populations led initially to extensive collaborations with the Plant Breeding Institute, University of Sydney. This culminated in 1983 in a ninemonth visit as E. C. Stakman Visiting Professor and Fulbright Scholar to the Department of Plant Pathology and the USDA Cereal Rust Laboratory at the University of Minnesota. That productive visit set the scene for continuing work with Robert Park and his colleagues at Sydney on the origin and nature of novel variants of wheat leaf and stripe rust in Australia.
During the 1980s, Burdon expanded his work on the structure of plant–pathogen systems with studies of wild-crop interactions (wild oats–oats–Puccinia species), wild crops relatives (wild soybean– Phakopsora pachyrhizi), and other natural systems. The importance of this work was recognized in 1987 when he received the Gottschalk Medal, awarded by the Australian Academy of Science to young scientists of particular merit. It was also at this time that he initiated work on the Australian native interaction between Linum marginale and Melampsora lini that has developed into the best-documented natural host–pathogen system.
In 1987, Dr. Burdon published a significant monograph, Diseases and Plant Population Biology, that drew heavily on agricultural experience to illustrate the general thesis that ecologists and evolutionary biologists needed to become aware of the potent role diseases play in shaping the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of natural plant communities. That book had both an immediate and lasting impact on raising awareness in the area. Dr. Burdon has remained at the forefront of that expansion, taking a particular interest in developing a better understanding of the force leading to the evolution of different resistance mechanisms in real-world heterogeneous environments.
In 1990, Dr. Burdon spent a 5-month sabbatical period at the Department of Ecological Botany, Umea University in Sweden, where he established a valuable long-term interaction with Professor L. Ericson, injecting a strong pathology/genetics thrust into the work undertaken there. His major contribution (which has continued to the present) was recognized in 1996 when the university conferred an honorary doctorate upon Dr. Burdon. In the same year, Dr. Burdon’s extensive contributions to evolutionary biology, plant pathology, and conservation biology were recognized by election to the Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science.
Since 1996, Dr. Burdon has continued his research, expanding rapidly into both empirical and theoretical studies of the effects of spatial considerations on the development of plant–pathogen associations. At the same time, he has taken on a significant increase in science administration for both his own group and the Division of Plant Industry as a whole.
One issue of considerable concern to Dr. Burdon in recent years has been the decline in the teaching of pathology in many Australian universities. Currently, he is deeply involved in facilitating the development of a partnership between the Australian National University and a major industry funding body to re-establish teaching of pathology and microbial science at the university after a hiatus of seven years. That partnership will see undergraduate teaching at the university being supported by assistance in postgraduate training in a wide range of pathology-related issues within CSIRO.