Melodie Putnam was born and raised in Portland Oregon. She received two B.S. degrees (agronomy and botany and plant pathology) from Oregon State University (OSU) in 1981, and an M.S. in plant pathology from the University of Wisconsin in 1984. As an undergraduate student, she worked in the laboratory of Dr. Mary Powelson, who was instrumental in sparking her developing interest in plant pathology. After graduate school, she spent a short time with the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia, PA, and with the USDA in Beltsville, MD. In 1986, Putnam began her career first as a plant disease diagnostician (1986), and later as supervisor (1988–1990) of the Plant Pest Survey and Support staff with the Maryland Department of Agriculture. She then took the position of director (1990–1993) of a newly established integrated plant diagnostic facility at Purdue University. In 1993, Putnam began working at OSU as an extension plant pathologist and chief plant disease diagnostician. Her responsibilities are to provide plant disease diagnosis and management recommendations for all samples submitted to the OSU Plant Disease Clinic. She was promoted to senior instructor with tenure in 2001.
As an extension plant pathologist, Putnam has a remarkable set of accomplishments. First, she has heightened the level of professionalism in the Plant Clinic. Soon after arriving at OSU, Putnam modernized the Plant Clinic by redesigning operations, halving turn around time of samples, and introducing new diagnostic services in response to changing client needs. The latter have included assaying nursery water for Phytophthora spp., testing isolates of Botrytis and Phytophthora for resistance to fungicides, isolating and testing pathogenicity of Agrobacterium tumefaciens (=Rhizobium radiobacter) from symptomatic plants, and providing 24-h turn around for urgent samples. She has also updated and improved the ability to diagnose and identify various pathogens by implementing rapid diagnostic techniques, including molecular assays. As part of the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN), Putnam has responsibility for morphological and molecular detection of pathogens on the APHIS “Select Agent” list. Putnam has a reputation as a careful, thorough, and knowledgeable diagnostician. One colleague characterized her as “the type of diagnostician we all strive to be.” Her efforts and the knowledge of her being a top notch diagnostician have resulted in the elevation of the OSU Plant Clinic from a simple local facility to one known regionally as a strong diagnostic laboratory with unique services. Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of samples received from clients around the country, as well as the number of samples received from and referred to by other diagnosticians. Most recently, the OSU Plant Clinic has been designated by the Western Region of the NPDN as a resource laboratory for the Pacific Northwest and Alaska and has provided back-up diagnostic services to 11 states, including those in other regions.
Extension/teaching is an important and effective component of her program, and her leadership and knowledge in this area is quite evident. The OSU Plant Clinic is her top priority and her expertise in the field of plant pathology becomes clear when reviewing the diversity of plants and diseases related to samples submitted. Putnam has, during her tenure at OSU, personally processed over 19,000 samples representing more than 400 plant species from 297 genera and 110 families. Causal agents identified from these samples were from 226 genera of fungi representing 20 orders and 12 classes. In addition, in a state with little viral or bacterial diversity, she has identified 33 virus species, 25 bacteria species, and three phytoplasmas. Each of these samples provided a teaching opportunity and a means to impart information to the client regarding disease cycles, management strategies, and the best means of preventing further disease problems. In addition, Putnam has been extensively involved with other teaching, primarily related to the understanding and diagnosing of plant diseases. She has been the guest lecturer in a number of credit classes at OSU, in the Departments of Horticulture, Crop and Soil Sciences, and Botany and Plant Pathology. She has had the opportunity to share her skills of diagnosing with those graduate students who have shown interest in learning practical plant pathology. Her teaching has not been confined to campus opportunities. Putnam is in high demand each year to make presentations to growers throughout the state, and gives over a dozen talks annually covering a wide range of subjects. She has been a driving force behind the education of master gardeners regarding plant diseases, teaching over 55 half-day and day-long workshops over the years in 15 of Oregon’s 21 counties with master gardener programs. Her gift of being an effective teacher is recognized by the excellent teaching evaluations received from her master gardener classes. Her high level of achievement was recognized when Putnam received the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences Award for Excellence in Extension in 2000.
With a 100% extension appointment, Putnam has maintained an exceptional record of scholarly accomplishments through publication of articles covering issues pertinent to her position. She has 35 refereed publications, has contributed an encyclopedia article, book chapters, and conference proceedings. She has also presented at two international and 62 national and regional meetings. This is all in addition to the extension publications she has authored, coauthored, and contributed to.
Putnam has served many roles within The American Phytopathological Society. She is currently senior editor of APS PRESS and has served as senior editor of Plant Health Progress, past president of the APS Pacific Division, and newsletter editor of the division. She has also served on the Diagnostics, Regulatory, and Standardization of Common Names for Plant Diseases committees.