Mark L. Gleason was born in New York, New York. He earned a B.A. degree in biology in 1972 from Carleton College, M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in environmental sciences in 1976 and 1980, respectively, from the University of Virginia, and a Ph.D. degree in plant pathology in 1985 from the University of Kentucky. In 1985, he joined the faculty at Iowa State University (ISU), where he currently serves as professor and extension plant pathologist.
Gleason is recognized internationally as the leading expert in research and management of sooty blotch and flyspeck (SBFS) of apple, a fungal complex causing major economic losses worldwide. His groundbreaking work in this pathosystem triggered a paradigm shift from viewing SBFS as two separate diseases (“sooty blotch” and “flyspeck”) to recognition of SBFS as an extensive multispecies continuum. His work blended contemporary molecular techniques with traditional fungal morphology to discover and characterize the multiplicity of fungi in the complex. His coordinated orchard surveys highlighted major regional differences in the species composition of the SBFS complex. Moreover, his research team’s discovery of significant differences in the sensitivity of many of the new species to widely used fungicides illustrated the critical importance of biogeographic variation in disease management. Gleason has been the major force for internationalizing SBFS research and has involved “half the world” of fruit pathologists in this endeavor. He has engaged and thereby attracted many colleagues into SBFS research, from almost every apple-growing state in the midwestern and eastern United States, as well as colleagues in China, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Poland, Spain, Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro, Costa Rica, and Brazil. His successful global engagement and leadership has led to the discovery of more than 80 fungal species within the SBFS complex to date. Gleason’s team’s research and collaborations have produced 37 research publications in the past 10 years alone on the diversity, speciation, biogeography, ecology, and management of SBFS fungi. His work has contributed more to our understanding of this disease complex than all previous research combined.
Gleason’s dual Ph.D. degrees in environmental sciences and plant pathology and his extensive experience make him a highly credible leader in multidisciplinary projects spanning these disciplines. A major project has been integrating weather-based disease forecasting into disease warning systems. His partnerships with meteorologists and statisticians led to greatly improved modeling of leaf wetness duration, the critical input for many warning systems. His pioneering use of environmental assessment and modeling tools, including classification and regression trees (CART) and fuzzy logic, resulted in 19 research publications. Gleason also founded and leads the Midwest Weather Working Group, a forum for partnerships in academic and industrial research. Through this group, Gleason is currently working to use information technology to promote rapid sharing of critical weather data, with the ultimate goal of better management of diseases and insect pests. Gleason has been a key visionary and leader in moving this field forward.
Gleason has made many notable contributions to extension and outreach. He was first author of the 2009 book Diseases of Herbaceous Perennials, which sold more than 1,400 copies and is among the top-selling APS PRESS publications. Gleason mobilized authors for this extensively illustrated and comprehensive reference book and secured the industry funding that made it affordable for end users. Gleason also led a 7-year (2005–2012) initiative to help 250 Amish and Mennonite farmers adapt to growing and marketing new vegetable and ornamental crops. With his exceptional skill at building multidisciplinary coalitions, he assembled a team of pathologists, entomologists, agricultural engineers, economists, horticulturists, and marketing specialists. Garnering both regional and federal grants, Gleason led his team in efforts that have built trust and established a potentially enduring link between this underserved community and academia. During the same period, Gleason was building connections between growers, extension professionals, and educators in Costa Rica and Iowa. He spearheaded an innovative grant to enhance their global perspective through highly structured exchange visits. Gleason developed and coordinated the curriculum during these exchanges that, from 2006 to 2009, involved 25 farmers, seven extension field staff, and five campus researchers from Iowa visiting Costa Rican farms and research facilities, and six Costa Rican growers and extension professionals visiting farms and facilities in Iowa, with both sharing their experiences in their local communities.
Gleason’s talent for fostering communication and a sense of community among diverse groups is reflected in his teaching and mentoring. He’s a prolific course innovator, having developed or codeveloped four cross-disciplinary courses: Integrated Management of Tropical Crops, Integrated Management of Turfgrass Diseases and Insect Pests, Ecologically Based Pest Management, and Improving Your Professional Speaking Style; thereby providing venues for integrating plant pathology into other disciplines. He taught a course on Responsible Conduct of Research to students at ISU and in China. He further internationalized teaching activities when he collaborated with the University of Costa Rica to create a plant pathology student exchange.
Since 1999, Gleason has codirected participation of 120 U.S. and 115 Costa Rican students in reciprocal farm tours and classes. These experiences profoundly altered the students’ preconceptions of each other’s countries, leading to nine Costa Rican students obtaining graduate degrees at ISU. Gleason’s deep warmth and concern for his students make him the model of a mentor for students and young scientists.
Gleason’s service to APS is truly outstanding. His editorial work for Plant Disease may be unmatched. He was a Feature editor for 6 years (1994–2000), during which every issue included at least one Feature article. He was a senior editor for almost 8 years (2003–2006 and 2010–2012) and will be editor-in-chief for 2013 to 2015. Moreover, Gleason has served on the APS Foundation Board for 6 years (2004–2009).
Gleason is highly deserving of the honor of APS fellow because of the breadth and depth of his impact in multiple areas of plant pathology. He has a talent for enthusiastically uniting people across disciplines and cultures and a profound curiosity and dedication to plant pathology. He has benefitted the lives, livelihoods, and careers of countless numbers of students, researchers, growers, and agricultural professionals around the world and been an outstanding spokesman and ambassador for plant pathology.