Niklaus J. Grünwald was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. He earned both his B.S. degree in plant science in 1991 and his Ph.D. degree in 1997 from the University of California-Davis. He pursued post-doctoral research at Cornell University. He joined the USDA-ARS in Prosser, Washington, in 2001 and moved to Corvallis, Oregon, in 2004. He also serves as courtesy professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology and the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing at Oregon State University and as adjunct professor in the Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University.
Grünwald is widely recognized as a leading international authority on the evolution and population genetics of emerging and reemerging plant pathogens, with a particular emphasis on the genus Phytophthora. He has made numerous seminal contributions that have substantially altered our thinking about the biology and evolutionary history of plant pathogens. His work defined clonal lineages of the sudden oak death pathogen Phytophthora ramorum and demonstrated its patterns of migration and repeated emergence on two continents. An important study showed that P. ramorum lineages are anciently diverged, indicating that the repeated emergence is not coming from a center of origin. He documented that the pathogen P. andina emerged by hybridization between the late blight pathogen P. infestans and another relative of P. infestans. Grünwald is also well-known for his post-doctoral work in Central Mexico, defining the center of origin of the Irish potato famine pathogen, P. infestans. Although a competing effort placed the origin of this pathogen in the Andes, Grünwald and colleagues provided strong evidence for Mexico being the center of origin. He described the population structure of the late blight pathogen in Central Mexico, codiscovered a new species, P. ipomoeae, which is a close relative of P. infestans, and demonstrated that native relatives of the late blight pathogen are genetically diverse. He also showed that oospores are formed ubiquitously in nature on foliage, on stems, and in tubers as well as on native relatives of the cultivated potato. Recently, he led a large collaborative effort, applying population genetic and coalescent analysis to microsatellite marker and nuclear gene data on a global sample to provide further insight into the evolution of P. infestans. This study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that genealogies for P. infestans and/or its relatives are rooted in Mexico and that the population in South America is clonal, whereas that in Mexico is sexual. Taken together, these facts provide the most parsimonious support for a Mexican center of origin.
In describing the evolutionary history of these microbes, he also developed tools and approaches that are used widely for analysis of populations. He published a study on how to determine genotypic diversity and corrected a common error in the literature. Most recently, with his graduate student Zhian Kamvar, Grünwald developed a statistical analysis package in R that facilitates rapid, convenient genetic analysis of populations sampled hierarchically, including tools specific to clonality. Grünwald recently cotaught several well-attended workshops at APS and Oregon State University and coauthored a resulting primer. The R package is widely used and has already been applied in several recent peer-reviewed studies. As a result, his lab has sponsored visiting scientists from all over the world to learn these tools and approaches. In response to the emergence of the sudden oak death epidemic, he introduced systems approaches for managing pests and pathogens in nurseries in close collaboration with Jennifer Parke. He also documented Phytophthora species diversity in nursery environments, crucial to development of systems approaches. This work is highly regarded by federal agencies like APHIS and State Departments of Agriculture and has been implemented in several programs and promoted by AmericanHort.
In addition to his impressive research accomplishments, Grünwald has been actively involved in service to APS and other agencies. Most notably he has served on APS Council, as editor-in-chief of Phytopathology and chair of the APS Publications Board, where he leads an effort to improve the competitiveness of APS flagship journals. He also served as associate editor and senior editor of Phytopathology and as editor for Plant Pathology. He currently serves as editor for Mycologia, PLoS One, and PeerJ. He has chaired numerous committees and served on boards, including OIP, OEC, and Publications Board. He has served as a panel member or reviewer for several national and international grant programs.
Throughout his career, Grünwald has maintained a multidisciplinary, comprehensive research approach in both basic and applied plant pathology that has resulted in more than 150 journal articles, reviews, and book chapters. He has multiple publications in high-impact disciplinary journals, including PLoS Pathogens, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature, and Science. He was the recipient of the USDA ARS Early Career Scientist of the Year Award in 2006 and the APS Syngenta Award in 2007. Grünwald’s seminal contributions will have a lasting impact on plant pathology by developing computational tools and asking probing biological questions about the patterns of emergence of plant pathogens, some of which have become textbook examples and have changed how we look at emerging pathogens. Grünwald’s outstanding and innovative research contributions, which have improved our understanding of the population biology, evolution, and management of oomycete plant pathogens and, in particular, of Phytophthora emergence via migration, hybridization, and other mechanisms, make him a worthy recipient of this year’s Ruth Allen Award.