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Critical thinking skills as an integral part of training in plant pathology diagnostic laboratories

Sladana Bec: University of Florida

<div>The University of Florida Plant Diagnostic Center diagnoses upwards of 3000 diseased plant samples per year. Due to our geographic location and global outreach, we encounter a wide host plant range including temperate, tropical, and subtropical ornamental plants, fruit and vegetable crops, turf, palms and agronomic crops. Diseased plant samples received originate from different ecosystems including, residential properties, golf courses, commercial production greenhouses, orchards, and nurseries. To meet our clientele’s needs we rely heavily on undergraduate student workers. Students come to us with vastly different educational backgrounds, knowledge, and skill levels. Most of the undergraduates step into the lab with limited experience and understanding of plant pathology and disease diagnostics. This creates a continuous need for teaching, practice, and use of the acquired skills. With our high sample diversity, we periodically encounter diseases new to the region. Completion of Koch’s postulates for a novel disease creates an opportunity for development and sharpening of critical thinking skills, and understanding of botany, microbiology, plant pathology, experimental design, and molecular genetics. Here we present our systematic approach to developing skills crucial for plant disease diagnostics, illustrated by the studies of two bacterial diseases conducted by undergraduate students.</div>