Robert Stewart Zeigler
Robert Stewart Zeigler was born in Bellefonte, PA, and reared in an agricultural setting. After earning his B.S. in biological sciences in 1972 with high honors from the University of Illinois, he served in the Peace Corps for 2 years and taught secondary school science in Mokala, Zaire. From 1980 to 1981, Bob Zeigler investigated the superelongation disease of cassava at the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia. His publications from this work are still among the definitive references on host resistance, the taxonomy and racial specialization of the causal agent, and the physiology of this important disease. After receiving his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1982, Dr. Zeigler returned to Africa as an employee of the International Development Research Centre (Ottawa, Canada). From 1982 to 1985, he served as a technical advisor for the Brundi Maize-Pea Program, Institute de Sciences Agronomique du Burundi (ISABU). In this position, he was responsible for virtually all aspects of managing this national commodity research program. Dr. Zeigler reoriented varietal development and agronomic research programs of ISABU to the needs of small maize farmers, and developed two highland maize populations from which three varieties were released in 1988. The on-farm methodology that he utilized to evaluate promising material was adopted as a standard procedure for other commodities.
In 1985, Dr. Zeigler began a productive 15-year phase of work as a rice pathologist and rice program leader in the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). He was first hired as a senior staff plant pathologist in CIAT’s Rice Program, and remained in Columbia until 1992, becoming leader of the rice program in 1986. While at CIAT, Dr. Zeigler was responsible for rice disease research throughout Latin America. This included the development of diverse disease screening and management strategies, clarification of the etiology of poorly understood diseases, and support of pathology and breeding programs of National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in the region. Among his many achievements were the development of lines with stable blast and hoja blanca resistance, the identification of Pseudomonas seed pathogens that were previously unknown in Latin America, and, in cooperation with scientists at Purdue University, the application of biotechnological innovations to the understanding of population diversity in the rice blast pathogen and its implications for rice improvement. Dr. Zeigler oversaw a budget of $2.3 million and coordinated 12 CIAT scientists and over 100 locally recruited scientists, technicians, and laborers during his fruitful time at CIAT.
In 1992, Dr. Zeigler was hired as plant pathologist and leader of the Rainfed Lowland Rice Research Program of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. Under his direction, the program pioneered the environmental characterization of production area via GIS integration of data from the social sciences and agronomic and germ plasm research, and used this holistic analyses to define and prioritize research problems. Significantly, breeding was completely decentralized to two regional shuttle programs in northeast Thailand and Eastern India. Strong linkages were established in developing countries in the areas of physiology and molecular genetics of tolerance to drought, prolonged submergence, and resistance to blast. With modern molecular tools, his team significantly increased our understanding of genetic variation in Magnaporthe grisea, the cause of blast, and clarified the genetics of blast resistance. During 1996 to 1998, he was leader of IRRI’s Irrigated Blast Research Program. This is IRRI’s largest program, budgeted at over $10 million, with 40 Ph.D. staff, postdoctorates, and visiting scientists of over 20 nationalities. As leader, he was engaged in disparate disciplines ranging from traditional agricultural sciences through molecular genetics and social sciences.
Despite the increasingly administrative nature of his duties in CIAT and IRRI, Dr. Zeigler was a prolific and respected author, publishing over 170 publications including 44 papers in refereed journals, 25 books, reviews, and book chapters, and numerous technical papers. Dr. Zeigler is fluent in written and spoken Spanish and French. He had been adjunct faculty member in plant pathology at Kasetsart University, Thailand (1995 to present), University of the Philippines at Los Banos (1992 to present), Colorado State University (1993 to 1996), and Oregon State University (1988 to 1992). He has served on several important CGIAR committees, organized numerous international conferences on rice diseases and improvement, and conducted program reviews and intensive training sessions throughout his time in CG system.
In 1999, Dr. Ziegler returned to the United States as professor and head of the Department of Plant Pathology and director of the Plant Biotechnology Center at Kansas State University (KSU). Since returning to the United States, he has maintained his commitment to international collaborative research. He led the creation of the Great Plains Cereals Biotechnology Consortium that includes KSU, University of Nebraska, Oklahoma State University, and the Nobel Foundation; has been funded by NSF, USDA, and state; and includes explicit research linkages with IRRI and CIMMYT in cereals genomics. He currently serves as chair of the Wheat Committee for Mid-America International Agriculture Consortium, and has promoted relationship between the Colegio de Post Graduados and the University of Sonora in Mexico and KSU. He is currently leading a very large global effort to promote and seek support for collaboration among U.S. universities and international agricultural research centers in the area of comparative cereals genomics. He is APS councilor for the International Society for Plant Pathology. For his outstanding contributions to plant pathology and international agriculture, as well as rice science, he has been awarded the APS International Service Award.