The society grants this honor to a current APS member in recognition of distinguished contributions to plant pathology or to The American Phytopathological Society. Fellow recognition is based on significant contributions in one or more of the following areas: original research, teaching, administration, professional and public service, and/or extension and outreach.
Tofazzal Islam is an internationally renowned researcher in molecular plant pathology, biological control, and bioactive natural products. His team uses cutting-edge research methods for dissecting molecular cross-talks between plants and plant-associated microorganisms.
Islam was born and brought up in Bangladesh. He obtained B.S. and M.S. degrees in agriculture from Bangladesh Agricultural University. Afterward he completed an M.S. degree in molecular ecological chemistry in 1999 and a Ph.D. degree in applied biosciences in 2002 from Hokkaido University, Japan. He then returned to Bangladesh to serve as professor (agriculture) at Bangladesh Open University before joining Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU) in 2010, a leading university for agricultural research and teaching in Bangladesh. At BSMRAU, Islam served as professor and head of the Department of Biotechnology. He is the founding director of the Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (IBGE) and a visiting professor of IPP of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), Beijing, China. Islam conducted multiple postdoctoral research and sabbatical visits to Hokkaido and Gifu University (Japan), the University of Goettingen (Germany), the University of Nottingham (U.K.), and West Virginia University (U.S.A.) under the fellowship programs of JSPS, Alexander von Humboldt, Commonwealth, and Fulbright, respectively.
Islam took a leadership role in responding to the wheat blast outbreak in Bangladesh caused by a clonal lineage of Magnaporthe (Pyricularia) oryzae in 2016. He led a large group of national and international researchers from the very beginning of the epidemic for the mitigation of this worrisome disease through use of genomics, genome editing, and other advanced molecular approaches. He collaborated with Prof. Sophien Kamoun, FRS; Prof. Nick Talbot, FRS; and many other international scientists, which resulted in rapid determination of the inoculum source for wheat blast in Bangladesh. This real-time response produced a bioRxiv preprint within just three months of the initial wheat blast outbreak, followed by a highly cited peer-reviewed journal article in another three months (Islam et al., BMC Biology, 2016). This exceptionally rapid progress in unraveling the identity and origin of an epidemic-causing plant pathogen using genomics would not have been possible without the key contributions of Islam and his team to several critical stages of the project that included sample collections, laboratory work, molecular validation, data collection and analysis, and writing of the manuscript. This rapid response teamwork experience to tackle a plant health emergency was summarized in several interviews and media articles, as well as in a perspective article published in PLoS Biology (Kamoun, Talbot, and Islam, PLoS Biology, 2019). Islam’s leadership and forward thinking to minimize losses from such potential outbreaks, including use of the open wheat blast approach, was used as an exemplar for the Global Surveillance System for crop diseases proposed by Monica Carvajal-Yepes and colleagues in a policy forum in science magazine. Islam’s continued research and outreach activities on wheat blast in the international arena is evidenced by his impressive publication list.
Islam is also very active in adopting and bringing cutting-edge technologies to the country, as evidenced by his work on CRISPR-Cas technology, not only just for gene editing to achieve disease resistance, but also for pathogen detection and diagnostics (Kang et al., 2021). To this end, Islam’s team developed a convenient method for the diagnosis of wheat blast fungus in collaboration with researchers in China and the United States using CRISPR-Cas12a technology. He has also pioneered research on microbial biocontrol of wheat blast in vitro, followed by extending that work all the way to the field level. Several of the genome sequences he generated from the biocontrol bacteria have been openly shared with the community, further demonstrating his commitment to open science.
Islam discovered a large number (>50) of bioactive secondary metabolites from host and nonhost organisms that are involved in chemotaxis, motility behavior, differentiation, and biorational management of economically important oomycete phytopathogens such as Phytophthora, Aphanomyces, and Plasmopara, as well as fungi. Another important area of his research accomplishments is the discovery of probiotic bacteria and their applications in sustainable plant disease management, as well as in industry.
Islam has also contributed to various aspects of broader plant pathology subject areas, while working tirelessly toward sustainable agriculture in Bangladesh. He has published more than 250 articles in international journals and books, with 5,260+ citations (h-index 39; i10-index 109; RG Score 44.97), and 15 books. Islam supervised a number of postdocs and Ph.D. and M.S. students and has mentored a large number of young scholars in the area of plant pathology and biotechnology. He is the editor-in-chief of two series books, Bacilli in Agrobiotechnology and CRISPR-Cas Methods, published by Springer Nature. He serves as an academic editor of PLoS ONE and as an associate editor of Frontiers in Microbiology and is a member of the editorial advisory board of CAB Reviews.
Islam has received numerous awards and medals nationally and internationally, including a Gold Medal of Bangladesh Academy of Sciences, University Grants Commission Research Award, Commonwealth Innovation Award, Rotary Club’s Vocational Excellence Award, JSBBA Young Scientist Award, and a Transformer Road Show Innovation Award from Islamic Development Bank, among others, for his outstanding research accomplishments. He was elected a Fellow of the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences in 2016, Bangladesh Academy of Agriculture in 2022, and The World Academy of Sciences in 2022. Islam has been an active member of The American Phytopathological Society (APS), American Society for Microbiology, and several others. He has served on several APS committees. Further details can be found here.
Islam is a world-class scientist and academic scholar and is dedicated to open science—a rather unusual position among scientists from the developing world. He has shown leadership in the area of plant pathology and plant-microbe interactions, which is evidenced by his exemplary and visionary work in the subject area. He deserves to be an APS Fellow for his wide-ranging contributions to plant pathology and promotion of this science in Bangladesh and abroad.