Dr. Brett Summerell is a native of Melbourne, Australia, where he was born in 1959. He received a BSc Agric. (Honors) at the University of Sydney in 1985, also winning the University Medal as the top ranked student in that year. He continued there, receiving his Ph.D. in 1988. From his major professor, Lester Burgess, Brett acquired a deep and abiding interest in the genus Fusarium that he has carried with him throughout his career. He is an expert at Fusarium disease diagnosis and the large-scale recovery and identification of Fusarium species from soil and soil ecosystems.
In 1989, Dr. Summerell accepted a position as a Plant Pathologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust. He has been with the Gardens in multiple positions ever since, and currently is the Director for Science and Conservation—in effect the Chief Scientist there. This unusual position has provided him with a unique opportunity to share plant pathology with an allied scientific discipline. Dr. Summerell provides leadership to his institution, with about 70 scientific staff reporting to him. Within the international Botanic Gardens community he serves on the International Advisory Panel for Botanic Gardens Conservation International, and is a member of the Council of Heads of Australian Botanic Gardens and the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (Chair 2008-2011). In the Mycology and Phytopathology communities, Dr. Summerell is President of the APS partner, the Australasian Plant Pathology Society (President 2017-2019), has served as a vice-president for the International Mycological Association, and as the chair of the International Society for Plant Pathology committee on Fusarium. Dr. Summerell is a Fellow of the Australasian Plant Pathology Society and is visiting Kansas State University in 2018 as the 2017-2018 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Agriculture and Life Sciences.
To date, Dr. Summerell has published 130+ journal articles and book chapters, more than 50 extension publications and technical reports as well as numerous articles for the general public. He has edited the proceedings of the Paul Nelson Memorial symposium (published by APS PRESS), co-authored two editions of a Fusarium manual, and co-authored the nearly 400 page Fusarium Laboratory Manual. He regularly makes presentations (20-30 per year) to both academic and non-academic audiences on topics ranging from the latest work in his lab to the role that Darwin played in understanding Australian flora and fauna. He makes regular appearances on television and radio, communicating issues on plant diseases, mycology, plant conservation and horticulture.
Dr. Summerell’s research career has two distinct phases. Prior to 2002 he and his collaborators concentrated on Fusarium from soil ecosystems and mammoth trans-continental surveys focused on the biogeography and distribution of Fusarium in both cultivated and uncultivated parts of Australia. These studies accomplished a better comprehension of the bioclimatic factors that control the distribution of soil fungi in Australia, helping our understanding of the impact of climate change on soil fungi in these fragile environments. A number of new species of Fusarium were discovered and described in the course of this work.
In 2002, Dr. Summerell shifted focus from soilborne Fusaria to those species found in above-ground plant parts. The Fusarium communities in these locations turned out to be fantastically different, and the above-ground communities included a plethora of previously undescribed species. More recent work has led to insights into the evolutionary links between native populations of Fusarium and those that cause diseases in commercial agriculture.
Dr. Summerell is one of the world’s premier morphological taxonomists of Fusarium. He has helped describe 20 new species, including species of commercial agricultural importance and those from exotic plants and locations. His role as a Fusarium expert is reflected in a broad range of collaborations on all continents to which Dr. Summerell has contributed his expertise. The Fusarium Laboratory Workshops have played a critical role throughout Dr. Summerell’s career. In 1986 and 1988 he was a part of Workshops run at the University of Sydney. In 2000, the workshops were recast into an annual form, with the 18th edition recently completed (June 2017) with 52 participants in Manhattan, Kansas—a 19th workshop is planned for mid-2019 in Bari, Italy. In all, 760 participants from 71 countries have been trained and many have gone on to develop significant careers. There have been more than 250 participants from the United States, a number of them APS members. Indeed, most diagnostic and research labs that deal with Fusarium have personnel who have trained at these workshops. Dr. Summerell is one of only two instructors who has helped to lead all 18 of the workshops and his teaching is highly valued by the participants. Through these workshops he has delivered practical guidelines that balance morphology, molecular biology, host plant, and disease symptoms in making a Fusarium disease diagnosis.
In 2006, Dr. Summerell was the co-author of The Fusarium Laboratory Manual, a book designed for practical use by those studying Fusarium. The manual touches on all aspects of Fusarium biology from species concept to isolation media, genetic maps and markers, and species identification. Dr. Summerell and others in his lab were primarily responsible for the species descriptions, the photographs and the morphological methods for distinguishing various groups from one another. The manual has had over 2700 citations since it was first published. Dr. Summerell is now engaged in revising this volume for the 2nd edition. In summary, Dr. Summerell is recognized as an APS Fellow for his contributions to our understanding of the biology and relatedness of fungi in the genus Fusarium, his leadership of the Plant Pathology and Botanic Garden scientific communities, and his outreach to fellow scientists and the general public through Fusarium Laboratory workshops and non-technical presentations for the general public that help bring science to life.