Benham E. Lockhart
Benham E. Lockhart was born in Kingstown, St. Vincent, West Indies. He earned his B.Sc. degree in tropical agriculture at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad in 1965 and his Ph.D. degree in plant pathology at the University of California-Riverside in 1969. Between 1969 and 1971, Dr. Lockhart was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Nebraska and the University of California-Berkeley.
In 1971, Dr. Lockhart, a new faculty member in the Department of Plant Pathology of the University of Minnesota, accepted an assignment at the Institut Agronomique et Veterinaire at Hassan II University in Rabat, Morocco. From 1971 to 1976 in Rabat and from 1981 to 1986 in Agadir, he played a key role in developing both plant pathology and plant virology in Morocco. He established the virus research laboratories at Rabat and Agadir, taught undergraduate courses in plant virology and plant disease diagnosis, directed graduate research projects, established a free diagnostic clinic at Agadir, and conducted cooperative research with the ministry of agriculture on plant virus identification, epidemiology, and control. Dr. Lockhart designed his teaching and research in an integrated fashion to meet the demands of education in a developing nation. He adapted his lifestyle to be compatible with the customs of Morocco. Although a native in the English language, he became proficient in several languages, taught students in French and, to increase his effectiveness, became proficient in written and classical Arabic and Spanish.
Each undergraduate student who studies with Dr. Lockhart researches a virus disease of an important Moroccan vegetable or fruit crop. He arranged for many of these students to attend universities in Europe or the United States for advanced graduate education. In 1975, King Hassan II personally visited Dr. Lockhart and his students at his plant virology laboratory at Hassan II University. In 1993, the Moroccan ambassador to the United States traveled to Minnesota to present Professor Lockhart with a gold medallion to honor his dedicated service to Moroccan science and agriculture. Dr. Lockhart is also an adjunct professor at the Institut Agronomique et Veterinaire at Hassan II University.
Approximately 60 plant viruses representing 23 virus groups have been identified in Morocco. Dr. Lockhart identified or contributed to the identification of 50 of these viruses. To ensure practical application of his research, Lockhart and his students worked closely with the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture. They identified bean common mosaic virus as an important yield constraint on dry bean production. They introduced resistant bean cultivars and developed a local breeding program to ensure that new cultivars would carry resistance. With the assistance of the Ministry of Agriculture, they developed a virus-free certification program for seed potato introductions. Working with private seed companies, they assisted in removing potato virus Y-susceptible tomato and pepper varieties (two major Moroccan export crops) from local breeding programs.
In addition to his highly productive years in Morocco, Dr. Lockhart has developed major international collaborations in 22 countries. These and other collaborations have developed as a result of his reputation as a world authority on plant pathology, plant virology, and in particular, a group of nonenveloped bacilliform plant viruses transmitted by mealybugs and through seed. Professor Lockhart named this new group the “badnaviruses” and proposed commelina yellow mottle virus as its type member. These viruses affect many important agricultural commodities in the tropics and subtropics, notably banana and sugarcane. Together with his Minnesota collaborator, Dr. Neil Olszewski, Lockhart demonstrated the plant pararetrovirus nature of the badnaviruses.
Professor Lockhart’s accomplishments are unique in that he has made exceptional contributions to both international development and to fundamental aspects of plant pathology. He has quietly accomplished what others can only dream or talk about. Dr. Lockhart has successfully balanced the demands of international development with the intellectual stimulation and satisfaction accruing from exciting fundamental research in plant pathology.