Ioannis (Yannis) Tzanetakis, born in Athens, Greece, received his bachelor/master’s degrees in soil science from the Agricultural University of Athens in 1998. His interest in plant pathology led him to the lab of Panayota Kyriakopoulou, where he worked on vegetable viruses. He then moved to Oregon State University, where he earned his Ph.D. degree in molecular and cellular biology under Robert Martin in 2004. After mandatory service in the Hellenic Navy in Greece (2005–2006), he returned to Oregon on a post-doctoral fellowship, working on virus translation enhancers with Theo Dreher. In 2008, Tzanetakis joined the faculty in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville as a plant virologist.
At the University of Arkansas, Tzanetakis has developed a program in applied virology with an emphasis on virus identification, characterization. and management. He has made significant progress characterizing important diseases in a range of crops, including rose and soybean, but his passion is berry crops. He has discovered and characterized more than 20 new viruses in berry crops and has emphasized the importance of understanding virus population structure to develop effective diagnostic assays. His approach has been to obtain multiple isolates of a virus, representing a wide geographic and host distribution, and then sequencing several genes of each isolate to identify highly conserved regions that can be used for developing detection primers. The rationale for this approach is the well-documented variability in plant viruses and his experience with Blackberry yellow vein associated virus, where primers developed to the initial sequence now detect only a subset of isolates sequenced subsequently.
Another area of interest is the characterization of virus complexes and understanding which viruses are important in disease development. He has shown that some of the diseases previously attributed to a single virus in blackberry are actually caused by a virus complex, as mixed infections are required for disease development. He emphasizes the importance of controlling all viruses in nurseries, but for fruit producers, it is only necessary to control viruses that are important in disease development.
Much of his research on berry viruses has been published in Phytopathology or Plant Disease, and key articles in other journals demonstrate a complete picture of the breadth and impact of his program. His work on mixed infections and virus population structures has the greatest impact for managing diseases of berry crops and is applicable to all crops, especially virus complexes in other perennial crops that are vegetatively propagated. The two publications with his graduate student Bindu Poudel (Plant Disease 97:1352; Plant Disease 98:547) are particularly appropriate for the Lee H. Hutchins Award, as they provided critical information on the virus population structure and diversity, host range, vectors, and epidemiology of two viruses commonly found in the blackberry yellow vein disease complex, Blackberry chlorotic ringspot virus (BCRV) and Blackberry yellow vein associated virus (BYVaV). Knowledge that BCRV was widespread in wild rose and native blackberry and that BYVaV was widespread in native blackberry, together with information on the vector, provided a basis for disease management. The virus diversity component provided partial sequence information from more than 30 isolates of each virus that the authors then used to develop diagnostic assays to capture all isolates of these viruses. The body of work in these publications has provided the information needed to develop management strategies for blackberry yellow vein disease in the southeastern United States and other fruit crops. Tzanetakis is a leader in viral diseases of berries, and a worthy recipient of the APS Lee M. Hutchins Award.
Tzanetakis has obtained more than $3.5 million of extramural funding to support his research program in the 7 years he has been at the University of Arkansas, and he has established a very productive program and mentored seven graduate students and seven post-doctorate fellows. He has authored and coauthored more than 70 peer-reviewed research papers (40 from work at the University of Arkansas), plus review articles on viruses in Rubus (Plant Disease 97:168), strawberry (Plant Disease 97:1358), blueberry, and criniviruses, and on the effects of global propagation movement disease epidemics (Plant Disease 99:176). He has presented more than 150 oral and poster presentations at professional meetings, given talks at more than 20 producer meetings, and published 16 articles in growers’ newsletters.
Tzanetakis is active in the National Clean Plant Network (NCPN) and serves as the vice chair of the NCPN–Berries. His program in the NCPN focuses on developing reliable diagnostic assays and exploring the potential of large-scale sequencing as a means to screen the top tier plant in a production system. His lead on the development of diagnostic assays resulted from his work on virus population structure with several viruses of berry crops and the recognition that reliable diagnostic assays need to capture virus diversity. In addition, he is the lead on projects funded by APHIS to coordinate certification programs in Rubus and blueberry within the United States. Through this project, draft certification guidelines with input from State Departments of Agriculture, nurseries, and researchers have been developed for Rubus and blueberry. The draft guidelines are now being used in pilot projects to determine their effectiveness in terms of producing plants of high health status, but also in terms of being a financially sustainable program. The goal of having a single certification program is to facilitate trade in plants without increasing trade in viruses.
Tzanetakis has been active in APS, serving as associate and senior editor for Plant Disease (2009–2015), associate editor for Phytopathology (2009–2011), and member of the Plant Pathogen and Disease Detection, Pathogen-Insect Interactions, and Virology Committees. He is also secretary of the International Council for the Study of Virus and Other Graft-Transmissible Diseases of Fruit Crops (ICVF). For the International Committee for Virus Taxonomy (ICTV), he is member-at-large of the Plant Virus Sub-Committee and member of the Closteroviridae, Secoviridae, and Totiviridae Study Groups. He was recognized by APS as a Schroth Faces of the Future—Virology in 2010, and he has received multiple travel awards to APS (2), ICVF (2), and the American Society for Virology (2).