Roger Hull was born on 11 April 1937 Hackthorn, Lincoln, England. His interest in plant virology developed early because his father, also a plant virologist, had a laboratory in the house and the glasshouse was behind it. After receiving his B.A. in botany from Cambridge University, he obtained a staff position as a demonstrator at Wye College, the Agricultural College of London University, where he studied the epidemiology of viruses of sweet peas for his Ph.D. He then traveled to Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, to assist in teaching agricultural botany and conduct epidemiological studies on the spread of Groundnut rosette virus by sitting in the field and watching aphids land on the plants. This led to the concept of the “edge effect” resulting from aphid vectors that are attracted by the contrast between plants and the soil.
Soon after returning to England, Hull joined R. Markham’s Virus Research Unit in Cambridge. Hull moved to the John Innes Center in Norwich in 1968 when R. Markham was appointed director. His research focused in a new direction on the physical structure and composition of viruses. This is exemplified by the year-long sabbatical Dr. Hull spent in the laboratory of R. J. Shepherd at the University of California, Davis. During this time Hull began work to characterize Cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV). Because of its DNA genome, CaMV was particularly attractive for molecular biological studies that began in the late 1970s. He and his colleagues were leaders in dissecting the molecular biology of this virus and were the first to recognize that its replication involved reverse transcription.
Dr. Hull has significant interests directed toward virus taxonomy and application of molecular approaches to conferring resistance to plant viruses. Several of his projects involve tropical crops and include a comprehensive investigation of rice tungro disease in Southeast Asia, rice hoja blanca in Central and South America, Banana streak virus in Nigeria, viruses of yam and taro worldwide, and, in collaboration with colleagues in China, making vectors noncompetent for transmission of Rice stripe virus.
Dr. Hull, while focusing on a desire for basic knowledge of the interactions that viruses have with plants and their insect vectors, has major interest in using such knowledge for designing resistance in plants to virus infection. He has studied the detailed interactions involved in cell-to-cell movement of viruses with model systems and developed information on the molecular biology of economically important viruses, especially from tropical countries. Using information gained from model systems, Hull has coupled investigations of new approaches to making plants resistant to viruses with assessment of possible risks accruing from field release of plants transformed with viral nucleic acid species.
His blending of basic, applied, and international studies is exemplified by an intercontinental collaboration that discovered the very unique finding that the DNA-containing Banana streak virus, affecting bananas and plantains, was integrated into the genomes of some cultivars. This was discovered when banana lines were tissue cultured for commercial production. Activation of viral integrants in certain cultivars could cause problems in tissue culture and breeding programs. Collaborative efforts devised a polymerase chain reaction-based system to detect germ plasm containing the integrated genomes. Work is under way to investigate methods to suppress activation in cultivars that are widely grown.
After statutory retirement from the John Innes Center in 1997, Dr. Hull was granted the first Emeritus Research Fellowship given by that institution. This has enabled him to continue several projects. Among these is the writing of the fourth edition of the seminal text in his field, Plant Virology (first authored by R. E. F. Matthews). Hull continues to be a highly prolific author. His over 220 publications are consistently characterized by their high quality and significant impact on plant virology.