Christopher C. Mundt
Christopher C. Mundt, born in Teaneck, NJ, in 1957, received the B.S. in plant science with honors from Cornell University in 1979. In 1981, he completed an M.S. in plant pathology at Iowa State University, and in 1985, a Ph.D. in plant pathology at North Carolina State University. Dr. Mundt joined the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State University in 1985, and from 1992 to 2000 was a visiting scientist at the International Rice Research Institute, the Philippines, where he conducted collaborative research on projects that extend to China, Vietnam, and Thailand.
Dr. Mundt has developed an international reputation for his contributions to the understanding of the genetics of host plant resistance and its relationship to the epidemiology of plant disease. His research has focused on the population genetics of cereal pathogens, the development of models to understand dispersal of plant-pathogenic propagules, and the development of strategies to increase durable host plant resistance and achieve sustainable agriculture. His research approach is both theoretical and applied, and it has led to the widespread modification of farming practices that have resulted in decreased disease incidence and severity, larger crop yields, and a reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.
A major thrust of Dr. Mundt’s research has been the development of systematic studies of the combinatorial effect of pathogen population size and host plant genotypes in the epidemiology of plant disease. In a critical early study, Dr. Mundt studied the relationship of the number of host genotype units and effectiveness of host mixtures for control of disease. An analytical model was used to show that the alloinfection/autoinfection ratio increases with an increasing number of host units in a population. The model suggested that mixtures of large host units could be very effective for controlling plant disease when the number of host units is large. This hypothesis was tested by simulating the effects of interfield diversification on the development of wheat stem rust. The model and hypothesis implied that both area and number of host units influence the effectiveness of host mixtures for disease control. Using computer simulations of oat crown rust, the relative importance of these two variables on disease control was quantified. The results suggested that intraspecific or interspecific mixtures of different genotypes planted in alternating rows, swaths, or fields could provide greater disease control than was previously thought.
Using these findings, Dr. Mundt designed experiments over the next decade that showed the value of combining ability of genotype mixtures to control diseases of wheat, barley, potato, and rice. Using genetically diverse wheat populations, he and his students examined the effect of spatial patterns of cultivar mixtures on the dynamics of several diseases including wheat stripe rust, Septoria rice blast, and potato late blight. In these studies, Dr. Mundt examined the role of pathogen and host diversity in epidemics. Results from these studies identified modeling strategies and mixtures of plant cultivars, representing a variety of cropping systems that are effective in reducing plant disease. Primarily because of his research, 13 and 18% of the soft white winter wheat areas of Oregon and Washington, respectively, were sown to cultivar mixtures in Fall 2000.
In Dr. Mundt’s most recent studies, collaborations with Drs. Youyong Zhu of Yunnan Africultural University and Tom Mew and Hei Leung of the International Rice Research Institute, demonstrated that rice cultivar mixtures could be used to reduce the severity of the devastating rice blast disease. Large-scale tests involving thousands of farmers were conducted to determine how the occurrence of rice blast would be affected by cultivar mixtures of highly desirable but blast-susceptible rice varieties. In 1998, blast severity was reduced to 1% in the mixtures compared with 20% in susceptible varieties. Yield of the mixtures was 89% greater than that of the susceptible cultivars. Although similar results were obtained in 1999, the success of this work was so striking that no foliar fungicides were used in 1999. It is estimated that 24,800 families have realized increased income of 150 to 190 U.S. dollars using this practice. Recently, Dr. Mundt and his collaborators at the International Potato Center in Peru and Ecuador have begun studying similarly employed mixtures of potato cultivars to significantly control the severity of late blight disease in Peru and Ecuador.
Dr. Mundt has also made an important contribution to international agriculture through his work on several committees including the APS Office of International Programs. While on that board, he authored a resolution on World Population/Hunger that was adopted by APS in 1996. His editorial in Phytopathology News in 1992 was key to convincing plant pathologists of the need to address world population growth to prevent hunger.
At Oregon State University, Dr. Mundt has guided numerous graduate students and is engaged in international education and extension programs. He has served as advisor for 15 to 20 undergraduate biology majors each year since 1994. He offers graduate courses on sustainable agriculture and population biology of host– pathogen interactions and team teaches a course on plant disease management.
Dr. Mundt has an outstanding record of innovative research extending from studies of theoretical modeling of host pathogen systems to applied research involving thousands of farmers. His research has made a positive impact in areas as diverse as wheat production in the Pacific Northwest and rice production in China. He has previously been recognized by APS as recipient of the Novartis Award in 1997 and the International Service Award in 2000.