Charles M. Kenerley was born in Thomasville, North Carolina. He received a B.S. degree in forestry at North Carolina State University in 1972 and then began graduate studies in plant pathology at Washington State University. After finishing an M.S. degree in 1975, he spent 4 years as a research technician with John Andrews in plant pathology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1983, Kenerley completed Ph.D. studies at North Carolina State University, where he studied Phytophthora root rot of Fraser fir trees under the guidance of Robert Bruck and Larry Grand. Kenerley then joined the plant pathology faculty at Texas A&M University (TAMU), where he currently holds the title of professor in the Department of Plant Pathology & Microbiology (PLPM).
Kenerley has a multifaceted research program on the molecular biology of Trichoderma virens, an important model system for studies of a fungal biological control agent effective in suppressing plant pathogens. This approach to understanding mechanisms of biocontrol developed from his early epidemiological and control studies of Phymatotrichopsis omnivora, the etiological agent of cotton root rot. His research encompasses broad aspects of the biology of Trichoderma, from applied studies on biocontrol efficacy as a mycoparasite, to fundamental studies of fungal genomics and elucidation of mechanisms of disease suppressive activity. A landmark discovery by Kenerley that advanced the Trichoderma biocontrol system was that SM1, a fungal protein elicitor, triggered induced systemic resistance (ISR) in plants. He also described the genetics of peptaibol production, characterizing the role of peptide synthetase genes that encode a functional nonribosomal peptide synthetase system for peptaibol biosynthesis. In addition to having antimicrobial activity, peptaibols were shown by Kenerley (based on analysis of the tex1 mutant of T. virens) to elicit ISR as exhibited by up-regulation of the key plant defense genes. In collaboration with Ben Horwitz, he has demonstrated the presence of negative regulators of ISR in T. virens. Another recent discovery is that the Vel1 gene encodes a master regulator of morphogenesis that is essential for biocontrol activity. Kenerley’s research program illustrates the importance of fundamental advances in fungal–plant interactions to develop new applications to promote plant health.
Studies of the Trichoderma virens system by Kenerley have resulted in key publications on fundamental mechanisms of fungal–plant interactions. His contributions to Trichoderma biology are documented in a comprehensive review published in the Annual Review of Phytopathology in 2013. The role of secondary metabolism in peptide toxin production by Trichoderma is analyzed in a review published in Microbiology in 2012, which provides a meticulous account of progress in understanding key functions in microbial communication in the ecosystem. Kenerley also organized a consortium to sequence the T. virens genome. This led to a publication in 2010 of comparative genome analyses of Trichoderma species to resolve evolutionary processes important to mycoparasitism. These studies will have a lasting impact on the development of Trichoderma-based biopesticides for plant protection.
Kenerley is an enthusiastic and talented teacher dedicated to serving the educational ambitions of students. He had a substantial role in developing programs in bioenvironmental sciences, environmental studies, and environmental business in PLPM that have since grown to 350 undergraduate majors. Kenerley teaches Microbial Processes in Bioremediation, and he consistently receives rave reviews from his undergraduate students. They routinely praise his effectiveness as an instructor, where he motivates and challenges students to understand regulatory and technological aspects of environmental remediation. Nevertheless, Kenerley is never satisfied with the status quo and strives to improve the educational experience of students through innovative approaches. His door is always open and students repeatedly seek his wise counsel on their academic program and professional ambitions. Over the years, Kenerley has taught other courses, including Theory of Plant Disease Epidemics and Soilborne Plant Pathogens, and he has supervised more than 50 undergraduates in research on fungi or special problems related to microbes. Several completed a prestigious senior honors research thesis under Kenerley’s guidance. The graduate students who worked in his research laboratory have now established successful careers in microbiology and the plant sciences. In 2007, Kenerley assumed responsibilities as associate department head for academics, where he was instrumental in strengthening the graduate curriculum and expanding undergraduate programs. In recognition of his many contributions to educating students at TAMU, he is the recipient of several awards, including the prestigious Wakonse Teaching Fellow Award and the Neuhaus Innovative Teaching Award.
Kenerley has a distinguished record of involvement in departmental, college, and university activities at TAMU, where he provides valuable service at all levels. For 30 years, he has tackled several difficult and time-consuming challenges that resulted in significant, positive changes in departmental academic programs as TAMU grew in scientific stature and size. He has served on the TAMU Core Curriculum Revision Committee and the President’s 2020 Vision Committee. He is a founding member of the Program for the Biology of Filamentous Fungi (PBoFF), which is internationally recognized for promoting research on the molecular biology of fungi. His dedication to undergraduate advising and mentoring is well documented, including serving as an advisor for the TAMU student chapter for the National Association of Environmental Professionals; a mentor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Program, the Hispanic Leadership Program, and Invisible Jungle club and radio show; a member of NSF- and TAMU-sponsored REU Programs; and a member of the BESC Honors Program. Kenerley is recognized for service to APS, including a term as associate editor for Phytopathology (1992–1995) and membership on the APS Biological Control Committee (1988–1992).
In conclusion, Kenerley is recognized as an authority on the molecular biology of Trichoderma and for several landmark discoveries on the multifaceted mechanisms by which these symbiotic fungi promote plant health. His studies of fungi are extensive and range from field ecology and control to fungal genomics and molecular mechanisms of antagonism. Kenerley is a scholarly, dog-loving person who is committed to student achievement, both in the classroom and research laboratory. His accomplishments show how scientific knowledge and creativity lead to discoveries that enhance plant health.
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