Judith K. Brown was born in Youngstown, OH, and moved with her family of nine to Scottsdale, AZ, at an early age, becoming first and foremost a “desert girl.” She received her B.S. degree in horticulture with a minor in plant pathology from Texas A&M University in 1979, an M.S. degree in plant pathology in 1981 from Washington State University conducting research on luteoviruses and vector biology with Stephen Wyatt, and a Ph.D. degree at the University of Arizona with Merritt Nelson in 1984. She was the first to study whitefly-transmitted viruses in Arizona, as their emergence in the desert southwest coincided with her graduate studies and early scientific career. Tucson remained her base with appointments as a post-doc (1985–1989) and a research professor (1990–1999), ultimately joining the academic ranks in the Department of Plant Sciences as associate professor (1999) and later advancing to full professor (2004).
Brown’s career has focused on research with virus-vector complexes globally and was initiated by the rapid rise to prominence of the whitefly Bemisia tabaci as vectors of viruses in subtropical and mild temperate locales. She was the first to recognize members of the now well-known Begomovirus genus as “emerging viruses,” a concept that until then applied primarily to human or animal viruses. After her first international meeting in France, she was asked by FAO to write early reviews on the status of this emerging disease complex in the Americas and the Caribbean Basin. Early on, Brown applied DNA hybridization technology to begomovirus detection and molecular markers to distinguish viral species and strains and to identify and track B. tabaci haplotypes (biotypes). These techniques enabled Brown and Julio Bird from Puerto Rico to characterize geminivirus problems of tomato in the Dominican Republic and to involve the exotic B biotype of whitefly and Tomato yellow leaf curl virus that had also been recently introduced on plants. They and others followed the rapid spread of vector and virus to other Caribbean and Central American countries and subsequently to South America and the southern United States. Owing to the outbreak, she served as outside advisor and research collaborator to Central American countries through the USAID PROCAP project, and currently works with USAID IPM CRSP subprojects in the Latin America and Caribbean and the Global Theme on Insect Transmitted Viruses and Plant Virus Diseases.
Through her work, she became a world authority on whitefly-transmitted geminiviruses, whitefly vector biotypes, and recently on several other emergent homopteran/plant pathogen complexes. She has visited, collected, and carried out biotype analysis and virus identification in more than 60 countries. As the B biotype spread, Brown was invited for consultancies by FAO, local producers groups, and government agencies. Since 1990, Brown has been an invited speaker more than 80 times throughout the world through invitations from academic, local government, plant protection-IPM NGO organizations, and at international meetings. She has collaborated with faculty at Egypt University (Cairo) and Jordan, and has had longstanding research collaborations with colleagues in Israel (BARD), South Africa (CDR), and IITA in Uganda/Tanzania, investigating vector capacity and genetic, population, and genomics aspects of whitefly vector haplotypes on the African continent (the proposed origin of the species) and the etiology of the African cassava mosaic virus pandemic using microsatellites and molecular markers.
She has effectively integrated research on viruses of Arizona and U.S. crops with her international work. The whitefly-transmitted crinivirus, Cucurbit yellow stunting disorder virus (CYSDV), was readily identified by Brown in Arizona and California in 2006, aided in part by her finding it in Guatemala melons in ~1996 and in Texas in ~2004, and then in Mexico. More recently, she has initiated work on two emerging psyllid-borne bacteria (Ca. Liberibacter spp.) affecting Central America/Mexico/U.S. citrus and potato/tomato crops. Her work on the whitefly-transmitted Cotton leaf crumple virus in Arizona, together with the discovery of the B biotype, prompted an offer of an FAO consultancy to study the outbreak of cotton leaf curl disease in Pakistan that went on to research demonstrating the etiological agent comprises a number of begomovirus-satellite complexes. She now leads a project in Pakistan to study begomovirus diversity, develop high-throughput diagnostics for virus differentiation, and screen U.S. public cotton germplasm to develop leaf-curl-resistant varieties. Begomoviruses have overcome varieties resistance to leaf curl disease within three years in Pakistan, posing a threat to the narrowing cotton germplasm in the United States in the event that this devastating complex is introduced here.
Brown has contributed greatly to the coordination and dissemination of information through organizing or co-organizing several multinational meetings and symposia at at least 10 national or divisional APS meetings. She is active in numerous professional working groups, including the ICTV Geminivirus Taxonomy Study Group (1997–present), chair (2006–present), Database Subcommittee (2003–2005); International Whitefly Working Group/European Studies Network (2002–present); and International Whitefly Genome Consortium (cofounder with H. Czosnek). Brown is a prolific author with numerous high-quality publications, with 111 journal articles, 10 book chapters, eight reviews, 17 Proceedings, 39 short reports (Disease Notes), and more than 250 abstracts of posters or presentations.
Brown has trained many visiting scholars in her lab, including several international students in M.S. (Mexico, India) or Ph.D. degrees (Mexico, Sudan); has hosted about 48 visiting scholars from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, and Yemen; and has served as external thesis advisor for M.S. and Ph.D. students from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Jamaica, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden, and Pakistan. She has participated in more than 10 workshops in the Caribbean region, Mexico, Chile, and Africa to transfer diagnostics technologies for virus-vector pathogen complexes.
Brown has been an active member of APS, having served as councilor for the Caribbean Division (2001–2006), member and past chair (2005) of the Virology Committee, member of the Emerging Pathogens and Diseases Committee since 2004, and member of the Office of International Programs Advisory Board (1996–1999; 2009–present), and founding chair of the new subject matter committee, the Vector-Pathogen Complexes Committee. She was an associate editor of Phytopathology (2000–2003) and of Plant Disease (2007–2009) and is currently senior editor of APS PRESS.