Sally A. Miller was born in Canton, OH. She received a B.S. degree in biology from The Ohio State University (OSU), and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in plant pathology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She joined DNA Plant Technology Corporation in Cinnaminson, NJ, in 1982 as a research scientist. In 1984, she helped launch a spin-off company, Agri-Diagnostics Associates, where she managed the plant pathology group. She joined the faculty of the Department of Plant Pathology at OSU, Wooster, as an assistant professor in 1991; she was promoted to associate professor in 1997 and professor in 2003.
Miller is a pioneer in the development and use of plant disease diagnostic assays. She and her coworkers at Agri-Diagnostics were among the first to apply monoclonal antibody technology to the detection of fungal and oomycete plant pathogens, resulting in six monoclonal antibody and immunoassay patents. As the principal plant pathologist, she also developed applications for immunoassays as decision tools in integrated pest management. After joining OSU, she continued to investigate the use of serological and molecular assays to detect pathogens in vegetable crops. Recognizing the potential applications of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, her laboratory used PCR to differentiate and quantify strains of aster yellows phytoplasma in leafhoppers immigrating into Ohio each year. This research led to an improved understanding of the effects of different aster yellows strains on leafhopper behavior and plant symptoms and formed the basis for recommendations to farmers for the timing of insecticide applications to manage this disease.
Throughout her career, Miller has shared her expertise and enthusiasm for plant disease diagnostics with others worldwide. Between 1988 and 1997, she introduced hundreds of pathologists to modern diagnostic technology as the organizer and chair of the Rapid Diagnostic Assays for Plant Pathogens Workshop held during the annual APS meeting. She developed and currently teaches a laboratory-intensive graduate course in diagnostics that immerses students in the diagnostic method. She also developed and cocoordinates a two-week hands-on international short course entitled, Pest and Disease Diagnostics for International Trade and Food Security, bringing 40 scientists from developing countries to OSU for training during the past three years. Miller has coauthored two invited chapters on plant disease diagnostics for the Annual Review of Phytopathology.
Miller has maintained a strong applied research program to support her role as the sole state extension specialist for vegetable pathology in Ohio, driving the development of sustainable approaches to disease management in a wide variety of vegetable crops. In addition to conducting an active program in crop-protection product assessment, her laboratory has made major contributions in vegetable disease management based on biological control and induced resistance mediated by organic amendments. She has also quantified several of the effects of organic transition strategies on plant health. She has recently established a recognized program in food safety in collaboration with OSU microbiologists and social scientists, focusing on the risks of human pathogen contamination of fresh-market vegetables. She is highly responsive to the vegetable industry, providing diagnostic services and timely solutions to acute disease problems for greenhouse and field vegetable producers. Her laboratory was the first to identify Colletotrichum acutatum as the causal agent of early anthracnose, using molecular methods. Her group also identified effective fungicides and partial resistance in commercial bell pepper varieties to manage this important disease.
Miller is committed to using her expertise and knowledge in plant pathology to solve critical problems and build capacity for research and outreach in the developing world. She has been an active participant in the USAID IPM Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP) since 1994, first as the principal plant pathologist, then as chair of the Philippines site (1998–2006). She also leads pathology efforts in IPM CRSP programs in Bangladesh (since 2000), and Nepal, India, and East Africa (since 2006). These efforts focus on developing, with local scientists, solutions to serious diseases that limit the yield, quality, and income-generation potential of vegetable crops. Through her participation in projects in several regions, she has been able to identify commonalities in disease problems and work to transfer technologies among countries. An example is the grafting technology developed in Bangladesh to manage bacterial wilt of eggplant and tomato, which has been adopted by thousands of Bangladeshi farmers and transferred to other countries in Asia and Africa. Since 2006, Miller has directed the International Plant Diagnostic Network, which links 15 developing countries in East and West Africa, Asia, and Central America, and builds capacity for disease and pest diagnostics through training and technology development and application. She is actively sought out for advice on vegetable disease diagnostics and management worldwide, and has had projects or consultancies in Egypt, Ukraine, Ecuador, Nigeria, Senegal, and Turkey. Miller was recognized for her contributions in Ukraine by being named an honorary professor of the D’nepropetrovsk State Agrarian University, the first American woman to be so honored. She has trained seven graduate students, two post-doctoral associates, and many visiting scholars and scientists from developing countries. She also mentored four African university pathologists under a USDA Foreign Agriculture Service Faculty Exchange Program. She was awarded the APS International Service Award in 2002 and the OSU Gamma Sigma Delta International Award of Merit in 2007.
Miller is a very productive scientist, with more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles in the last decade alone, plus large numbers of extension publications and nonrefereed articles. She also has a long history of service to APS. She has been active in several standing and ad hoc committees, including Public Responsibilities, Women in Plant Pathology, Diagnostics, Plant Disease Detection, and the Auxiliary Meetings Board. She served as senior editor for Plant Disease, section editor for Biological and Cultural Tests, and senior editor for APS PRESS. She is currently the director of the APS Office of International Programs Board. Plant pathologists, crop advisors, and agricultural producers in the United States and around the world have benefited immensely from the many contributions by Miller in research, outreach, and education.