Dr. Richard Bélanger was born in Québec City, Canada and obtained his B.S. degree in Forest Biology in 1984 from Université Laval, Quebec and his Ph.D. in plant pathology in 1988 from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, SUNY in Syracuse, N.Y. under Dr. Paul Manion. That same year, he accepted a position of research associate in the Department of Plant Science at Laval University advancing to full professor and chair over the years. Dr. Richard R. Bélanger is nominated for APS Fellow on his outstanding contributions to science in plant pathology and his innovative approaches to the mitigation of the effects of plant diseases. He has established an extremely productive and influential research program in the biological control of plant diseases and the role of silicon in host-pathogen interactions. His research has been cited over 11,000 times, arguably among the highest in the field of plant pathology. He has secured over $50 millions (CDN) in both competitive research and equipment grants. His work addresses applied plant disease control for producers, while striving to understand the basic science issues of plant-pathogen interactions. He has a strong focus on biological control and the use of silicon to mitigate the effects of plant disease, which he studies using multi-disciplinary approaches. His work has included important studies of the biochemistry and molecular biology of host pathogen interactions, and he is highly regarded by the international research community as a world authority, as evidenced by his 100+ invited lectures, keynote addresses, and seminars to international conferences in more than 20 countries.
His main research focus became the biological control of plant diseases, primarily powdery mildews on greenhouse crops. In this context, he pursued the study of Pseudozyma flocculosa as a potential biocontrol agent of powdery mildews. Recognizing that understanding the mode of action of biocontrol agents was critical to effective utilization, he undertook cytological, microscopic, chemical and genomic studies to decipher the unique properties of P. flocculosa. In collaboration with an industry partner he registered P. flocculosa as the biological control product - Sporodex®, which was recently approved for use in the European Union. Further work resulted in the full genome annotation of P. flocculosa, which helped reveal novel concepts about differences between pathogenic and non-pathogenic fungi. He and his team recently highlighted for the first time the concept of effectors involved in fungal-fungal interactions in the P. flocculosa-powdery mildew system. This body of work was instrumental in the creation of a Canada Research Chair in Plant Protection at Laval University awarded to Dr. Bélanger in 2001 and renewed in 2008 and 2015.
A second long-term research interest of Dr. Bélanger is the role of silicon (Si) nutrition of plants in mitigating the effects of plant diseases. He studied the effect of silicon fertilization through hydroponic nutrient solutions and showed that plants receiving Si had significantly reduced plant mortality, root decay and yield losses. Similar experiments by Dr. Bélanger and others since then have shown that Si has positive effects on disease in numerous pathosystems. Using the powdery mildew – cucumber pathosystem, Dr. Bélanger and colleagues found that Si treated host plants had a rapid and extensive accumulation of phenolic compounds in response to the pathogen. They further showed that Si treatment resulted in a more intense and rapid activation of peroxidases and polyphenoloxidases and provided conclusive evidence that Si is involved in the increased resistance of cucumber to powdery mildew by enhancing the phytoalexin flavonol aglycone rhamnetin. This was the first report of a phytoalexin in this chemical group in plants and of a flavonol phytoalexin in cucumber, a defense long believed to be nonexistent in the Cucurbitaceae. This work pioneered the hypothesis that Si could act as a primer of defense reactions in host plants, thereby contradicting the long-held hypothesis of chemical barrier. Using transcriptome analysis in different pathosystems, Dr. Bélanger and colleagues provided conclusive evidence that plants responded to Si treatment only if a stress was applied. More recently, he identified a novel Si transporter in Equisetum, a primitive plant known for its ability to accumulate high amounts of Si and conducted genome-wide analysis for aquaporins in soybean to identify key genes involved in transport of Si.
Dr. Bélanger’s contributions have been recognized through numerous awards including the Canadian Phytopathological Society’s Award for Outstanding Research (2014), the Excellence in Research Award by the Silicon in Agriculture Community, the William-P. – Fraser/Alain Asselin (SPPQ) research award, Outstanding Service Award (NE-APS), The Fisher Scientific Award in Microbiology (Can. Soc. of Microbiologists), and the Gordon J. Green Award (CPS, 1997). Dr. Bélanger has an impressive publication record with over 150 manuscripts in refereed international journals and book chapters and proceedings. He was co- editor of the book ‘The Powdery Mildews: A Comprehensive Treatise’ published by APS Press. He is the senior author on five patents and has supervised 25 Post-Doctoral Fellows, trained 20 Ph.D. students and 41 M.Sc. students, and mentored 46 undergraduate students. He has served as principal investigator or collaborator on 72 research grants and presented nearly 100 invited lectures, symposia and conference presentations. His services to APS and other plant pathology societies are equally impressive. He was elected Councilor-at-large of the APS (2001-04), and President of the APS North Eastern Division (1999-2000) and elected vice-president and president of both the Canadian Phytopathological Society (2007-10) and the Québec Society of Plant Protection (1991-1994). He was the local arrangements chair for the joint meeting between APS, the Canadian Phytopathological Society, and the Mycological Society of America in 2006 in Quebec City and was a member of the APS Centennial Planning Committee, a meeting that was in the planning stages for 5 years and broke all attendance records in 2008. Dr. Bélanger is fully committed and dedicated to the profession of plant pathology, and training of future professionals.
In recognition of his many exceptional research accomplishments and contributions to the science of plant pathology, Dr. Richard Bélanger is highly deserving of the distinction of Fellow of the American Phytopathological Society.