Joseph-Alexander Verreet was born in Meerbusch, Germany. He received a diploma degree from the University of Bonn (1981) and a Ph.D. degree in agricultural sciences from the Technical University of Munich (1985), where he also acquired his habilitation in plant pathology in 1992. In the same year, he became a full professor of plant pathology at the University of Kiel, Germany, where he still serves as the head of the Department of Phytopathology.
Since 1992, Verreet has developed and taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in plant pathology at Kiel University, including Plant Nutrition and Phytomedicine, Host-Pathogen Interactions, and Ecological Aspects of Pest Management. His research and teaching focus on the epidemiology of fungal pathogens of major crops and their integrated control. He has acquired an excellent reputation as a highly skilled and highly recognized academic teacher. His strong conviction in the inseparability of teaching and applied plant pathology research is evident in the topics of his textbooks and other publications. His students are appreciative of his teaching—the leader of the student organization at his university, Sarah Bode, recently said, “He likes to speak to students and we like to listen to him.”
In his research, Verreet developed integrated pest management (IPM) models for major crops by analyzing several multiyear, supra-regional case studies on epidemic and damage dynamics and extrapolating functional control thresholds. According to the IPM threshold approach, chemical crop protection measures are ideally applied in the epidemiologically sensitive stage of the pathogen at a reduced application rate. Verreet published models for IPM of wheat, barley, and sugar beet diseases. The sugar beet IPM model is employed across Europe for the control of beet leaf diseases. The models are aimed at optimizing pesticide use by preferentially using cultural controls, including sanitation practices.
According to Verreet’s scientific view, the key for solutions to problems concerning contagious diseases lies in the pathogens’ biology, their physiological abilities, their behavior in the field, and their population dynamics as affected by cultivation and environment. In the late 1990s, he started to produce short videos on the biology of fungal pathogens, with Holger Klink as Verreet’s coeditor on these projects. The films (16 to date) were produced by Rolf Stumm, a medical professional, Nikolaus Weissenhorn, and their team (STUMM FILM Media GmbH). The basic idea was to provide students with a vivid and lasting understanding of pathogen life cycles at the micro-scale, as affected by cultivation and environment. These videos combine real camera shots at the microscopic level with photorealistic, 3-dimensional computer animation—from the point of view of the fungal pathogen. The videos explain integrated management concepts by creating a life-like overall picture that gives the viewer a deeper and lasting understanding of the biological and ecological relationships of plants and their pathogens. Due to their short running time, the videos can easily be integrated along with more traditional teaching materials. The series currently includes pathogens and diseases of wheat, barley, sugar beet, and potato. Future videos are planned to cover economically important pathogens of corn, canola, fruit, and wine grapes.
The videos help teachers to use the so-called blended learning concept by achieving knowledge transfer of complex pathogen life cycles. Since these life cycles take place on a micro-scale, they usually escape the viewer’s notice. Three-dimensional computer animation combined with real camera sequences clarify complex biological micro-details and illustrate entire life cycles in an informative and colorful way. The videos improve students’ ability to retain information that may have first been presented in lectures or labs. The videos are marketed worldwide exclusively by APS PRESS. Production of the films, with development costs ranging from $80 to 100,000 USD for a 6-minute video, has been sponsored by the agrichemical industry (SYNGENTA and the former ZENECA ICI, KWS SAAT AG, BASF SE, and AGROPLANTA GmbH & Co. KG), which values their educational power. To quote Thomas Baum, professor and chair of the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Iowa State University, “Whenever I show one of Professor Verreet’s movies I always witness the amazement and appreciation in the viewers.”
Over the years, Verreet has received high performance evaluations from students, culminating in the bestowal of the Faculty of Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences Student Council’s Teaching Award at Kiel University in 2012. He has supervised and mentored 85 undergraduate, 54 graduate, and 34 Ph.D. students. His publication record includes several Plant Disease and Phytopathology articles on his IPM models for wheat and sugar beet crops. Recently, he coedited, together with Hans Michael Poehling of Hanover`s Leibniz University, the fourth edition of the textbook Lehrbuch der Phytomedizin (Textbook of Phytopathology).
Verreet’s record of university and professional service activities includes a term as newsletter editor of the International Society of Plant Pathology (ISPP) from 2003 to 2006. He received the Julius Kühn Award of the German Society for Plant Protection and Plant Health (DPG) in 1990 and several scientific film awards thereafter. Among them are the Silver and Gold Intermedia-Globes of the Worldmedia Festivals in 2002 and 2003, respectively, and the Magna Mater Award of the International AGROFILM Festival in 2004. Most recently, the new teaching video on potato late blight was awarded first prize at the 29th International AGROFILM Festival (2013). From 1998 to 2000, Verreet was head of the registered world exhibit "Securing Food for the World: Models from a European High-Competition Region—Efficient and Environmentally Friendly" at the World Exhibition EXPO 2000 in Hannover, Germany. From 2005 to 2010, he was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Plant Diseases and Protection. He has been a member of the German Central Commission for Biological Security of the Federal Consumer Protection and Food Security Agency since 2001.
Verreet teaches students his view of how individual epidemiological research studies can gradually put together, bit by bit, the jigsaw puzzle of an entire, workable IPM program. He is a teacher with a message, and he conveys this with unusual creativity and skill.