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Amy Charkowski was born in Madison, WI and earned her B.S. in Biochemistry and Plant Pathology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1993 and Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from Cornell University in 1998. From 1998 to 2001 she was Research Microbiologist in the Food Safety and Health Research Unit of USDA-ARS in Albany, CA. In 2001 she became an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at UW-Madison where she has risen through the ranks to full professor. She has been Director of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Certification Program since 2001 and Associate Chair of the Department of Plant Pathology since 2014. This APS Fellow nomination is based on Charkowski’s original research, administration, and professional and public service. Charkowski’s research has combined important discoveries about the molecular basis of soft-rot diseases with development of directly applicable tools to detect pathogens and prevent crop losses. She is a truly translational researcher who connects her fundamental research discoveries to disease prevention strategies.
Charkowski and her group have identified the most prevalent types of pectobacteria attacking potatoes, and in the process discovered in the U.S. a
subspecies previously unreported outside of Brazil and a
species previously unreported on potato. With collaborators they have sequenced the genomes of several
taxa, and these data have enabled experiments to determine the roles of novel bacterial virulence genes up-regulated in rotting potato tubers. Additionally, her group discovered that
appears to deliver a single Type 3 effector, DspE, into host cells. This effector protein causes plant cell death and therefore promotes pathogenesis, but DspE can also trigger a successful resistance response in plants that recognize it. Recently, her lab group has been focused on identifying and cloning potato genes that provide resistance to
Potato virus Y
. Taken together, her innovative and technically demanding research has resulted in breeding efforts now focused on the appropriate
species, better assays for testing breeding material, and significant new basic insight into
Charkowski administers the Wisconsin Seed Potato Certification Program, a $1.1 million per year program that includes a tissue culture laboratory, an early generation seed potato farm, and a regulatory program. About 8% of U.S. potatoes can be traced back to this program. Under Charkowski’s conscientious and innovative leadership, this program is considered among the best in the world. A few highlights of her accomplishments in the seed potato program include: Updating the state rule (akin to changing a law) that governs seed potato production to bring it into line with industry and international standards; implementing a hydroponics production system for seed potatoes that has resulted in a significant decline in virus incidence; launching an innovative program to produce seed potatoes for the burgeoning organic market; responding effectively to ongoing findings of diseases new to the U.S. or to Wisconsin; working collaboratively with researchers around the country to improve detection methods for diverse potato pathogens, an activity that attracts significant levels of competitive funding, including a recent $8.3M USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative grant on which Charkowski is one of three lead PDs.
Additionally, Charkowski has hosted many visitors and trained scientists and farmers from Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America in clean seed production. She has won substantial funding from USAID-MERC to present workshops on seed potato production in the Middle East and North Africa. This pioneering work made it possible for several woman scientists to receive this high level of scientific training. Her outreach efforts truly encompass the globe, with impacts ranging from the local to the international level. Charkowski’s professional service is exemplary. She has chaired the APS Bacteriology and Biotechnology Impact Assessment committees, and from 2007-2013, she served as the Biology Chair on the APS Annual Meeting Board. In 2013 she became Director of that board, and in that role she is responsible for arranging the scientific program for our annual meeting. She is a sought-after reviewer for journals and national grant panels and has served on the editorial board for Plant Disease. Her service to the profession includes several national committees and task forces for seed potato certification.
At UW-Madison she has served on countless department and college committees, co-chaired the Biology Undergraduate Major (the largest major on campus), and was elected to serve on and co-chair the Biological Sciences Division Tenure Committee. She is especially highly regarded as a mentor to junior faculty, as an advisor and confidant to her peers, and she currently serves as Associate Chair of the Department of Plant Pathology. Charkowski’s formal appointment is dominated by research and administration of the seed potato program. Nevertheless, she co-teaches a graduate-level course,
Biology of Plant Pathogens
; developed a special topics course,
Bacterial Biofilms and Adhesion
; and developed and co-taught
Organic and Urban Agriculture
. She gives numerous guest lectures on topics ranging from potato production, bacterial pathogenesis, uses of biotechnology, genetically modified plants, and organic agriculture. She is widely known as a supportive, encouraging, and compassionate mentor who has been major advisor to 13 graduate students, five post-doctoral associates, and served on the thesis committees for 54 additional students. She has a welcomed to her lab 15 visiting scientists, and dozens of high school and undergraduate students. As an internationally recognized researcher, skillful administrator, conscientious mentor, and dedicated servant to the discipline of plant pathology, Charkowski is most deserving of recognition as an APS Fellow.
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