Seogchan Kang was born in Korea and obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemistry in 1983 and 1985, respectively, from Seoul National University. He completed his Ph.D. degree in physiological chemistry under the supervision of Robert L. Metzenberg in 1991 from the University of Wisconsin. Kang was a visiting scientist at DuPont until 1994 and had postdoctoral appointments at Purdue University and the University of New Mexico between 1994 and 1997. In 1997, he joined the faculty of the Department of Plant Pathology at the Pennsylvania State University, where he is currently an associate professor. His research focuses on genetic mechanisms underlying race variation in the rice blast system, molecular and cellular mechanisms underpinning Fusarium wilt, and development of informatics platforms supporting pathogen genomics, forensics, and systematics. He has served APS as a member or chair of three APS committees and as a reviewer for APS journals.
Kang has developed a multifaceted research program, and his contributions to plant pathology have come from four main areas. His seminal contribution has been his leadership in the establishment of a novel informatics platform to support and integrate community research on Phytophthora. Pathogen cultures often form the primary link that connects discoveries of the present with established knowledge of the past and support pathogen forensics. However, available resources for the archiving and use of pathogen culture collections have been grossly inadequate, resulting in the loss of important historic isolates and also causing fragmentations in community research. Kang and collaborators have created an integrative informatics platform, named the Phytophthora Database (www.phytophthoradb.org), that supports Phytophthora identification and monitoring by archiving genotypic and phenotypic data associated with previously characterized isolates in an easily searchable format. In the long run, the database will support the integration and utilization of data from diverse areas of research on Phytophthora, ranging from genomics, phylogenetics, and population biology to epidemiology. The impact of this work will expand beyond the better understanding and management of Phytophthora, since this informatics platform can easily be adopted to support new global networks for monitoring other pathogen groups.
Kang’s second major contribution to plant pathology has come from his studies of the genetic mechanisms underpinning race variation in the rice blast system. Although gene-for-gene–mediated resistance is highly effective once triggered, such resistance frequently loses its effectiveness in the field due to the emergence of new races. Kang has been addressing the question of how new races arise at multiple levels, ranging from individual avirulence genes to field populations. His work with Magnaporthe oryzae has increased our understanding of the roles of various genetic elements in causing genetic instability of its avirulence genes and of the distribution, evolution, and variation of avirulence genes in natural populations.
An area of research that Kang and collaborators have pioneered that has begun to pay rich dividends is a new experimental model system for the study of soilborne fungal diseases using Arabidopsis thaliana and Fusarium oxysporum. Because much of our current knowledge in the molecular basis of plant–pathogen interactions has been derived from studies based on foliar fungal pathogens, our understanding of soilborne fungal diseases lags considerably behind that of foliar diseases. His work on the A. thaliana–F. oxysporum system has yielded many new insights into the molecular and cellular mechanisms underpinning root pathogenesis from both the host and pathogen sides. In addition to the identification of genes important for root pathogenesis, four-dimensional imaging of interaction sites via confocal/multiphoton microscopy revealed many novel features underpinning their interactions.
Lastly, Kang has offered his knowledge and achievements to many in plant pathology through the development of research tools and collaborations. Two most notable tools that have been distributed to many laboratories are Agrobacterium-mediated transformation and gene manipulation tools and fluorescent protein-based reporters and physiological sensors. He also has collaborated with many pathologists who have field-oriented research programs nationally and internationally (China, Greece, India, Korea, and Spain). One notable example is Kang’s contribution to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA). Since 2003, he has helped PDA establish and run a molecular diagnostic laboratory so that PDA can quickly respond to several emerging pathogen threats. Considering the increasing importance of integrative approaches in solving plant disease problems, Kang’s collaborative work presents an exemplary model for such approaches.
Kang has given 18 invited lectures in national and international symposia on topics of his current research focus. In addition, he has presented 33 invited seminars at U.S. and international universities. He has published 46 peer-reviewed journal articles, four book chapters, and two conference proceedings. He has served as an associate editor for two journals, has been a reviewer for more than 20 journals, and has served on four grant review panels.