Stewart M. Gray was born and raised in western Massachusetts and earned a B.S. degree in biology/marine science in 1979 from Southampton College of Long Island University. He went on to earn an M.S. degree in entomology (1984) and a Ph.D. degree in plant pathology (1987) from North Carolina State University. Gray did not realize his genetic predisposition to plant pathology until after pursuing studies and a brief career as a marine biologist. He had spent summers with family on Cape Cod, where his great-great grandfather had been instrumental in the development of the U.S. cranberry industry in the early to mid-1800s. His great-great grandfather published letters describing disease and insect pests plaguing the early industry. In 1987, he joined the USDA-ARS in Ithaca, NY, where he currently serves as a research plant pathologist. Gray is also a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell University and an adjunct professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology at The Pennsylvania State University.
Gray has led an innovative and successful research program that is known to have both fundamental and practical significance. He is internationally recognized as an authority in the field of vector biology and plant virus epidemiology, particularly of the aphid-transmitted viruses in the families Luteoviridae and Potyviridae. Along with long-time collaborators Fred Gildow, Peter Palukaitis, and Allen Miller, Gray has provided a broad fundamental understanding of luteovirus-aphid-plant interactions that regulate the circulative transmission of plant viruses. His laboratory has produced unique aphid and virus biological resources allowing the study of the genetics of circulative transmission and the discovery of unique virus, aphid, and plant proteins that allow virus movement and survival in the aphid and plant hosts. Translational and applied efforts have resulted in solutions for the management of yellow dwarf viruses through the use of resistant plant genotypes, cultural practices, and use of insecticides.
Since 2002, a second major focus of the lab has been research and outreach efforts on Potato virus Y (PVY) in potato. Gray led a team of scientists, support staff, and 17 state seed potato certification agencies charged with conducting a nationwide PVY survey that involved the testing of more than 80,000 tubers per year. This multiyear study was one of the largest, most comprehensive surveys for any plant virus. It is providing unprecedented insight into the genetic diversity and evolution of PVY, a major pathogen of potato. Gray has also served as the project director of a NIFA-funded multidisciplinary, multistate project on the etiology, epidemiology, and management of PVY affecting the U.S. potato industry. Gray’s own research efforts have focused on genetic diversity and evolution, aphid transmission, and epidemiology of PVY. He also spearheaded efforts to develop and implement a revised U.S.-Canada management plan for viruses affecting potato—a regulatory agreement that contributes to the continued free trade of seed potatoes between the United States and Canada. Gray also led a Science Advisory Team to develop, implement, and provide continued review for the National Harmonization Standards for the interstate and international movement of seed potatoes.
The acceptance of the management plans is attributed in part to Gray’s creativity in organizing and coordinating interdisciplinary teams to tackle big questions. He demonstrated the ability to communicate science to a wide array of audiences, including policy makers, growers, and industry partners. Gray also serves on the National Potato Council and the Plant Disease Management and Seed Certification Subcommittee (2004–present) and the NAPPO technical advisory group for potato viruses (2011–present). For his contributions to the potato industry, Gray was awarded the 2009 Meritorious Service Award by the National Potato Council and U.S. Seed Potato Growers.
The success and productivity over Gray’s career are reflected in more than $7 million in competitive funding, more than 95 refereed publications and book chapters, and more than 40 invited talks at regional, national, and international meetings. He has authored comprehensive and highly cited review papers on plant virus-aphid-plant interactions and virus disease management. His research accomplishments have earned him Early Career and Senior Scientist of the Year awards from USDA-ARS. Gray has been an outstanding colleague and mentor of more than 20 visiting scientists and post-docs and 15 graduate students. Gray credits his success to great collaborators, but more importantly to all the talented and dedicated students, post-docs, and technical staff that have worked in the lab and have gone on to successful careers in academia, government, and industry.
Gray’s talent for fostering communication and a sense of community among diverse groups is reflected in his service and mentoring. At Cornell University, he served on the Institutional Biosafety Committee from 1997 to 2005 and chaired this committee from 2002 to 2005. Under his leadership, online submissions and reviews of Memorandum of Understanding and Agreements were institutionalized. Since 2010, he has served as the director of graduate studies for the Field of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology. Under Gray’s leadership, the field has had remarkable recruiting success and the members of the field are very grateful and appreciative of his endless efforts.
Gray has been active in APS, serving on the Virology Committee (1998–1990) and the Vector-Pathogen Complexes Committee and as a senior editor of Plant Disease (2007–2009). He also served as associate editor of Virology (1994–2000) and associate editor of Journal of General Virology (2010–2016). Since 2004, Gray has been the North American representative to the International Committee for Plant Virus Epidemiology of ISPP. He also has membership in the American Society for Virology, the Entomological Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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