Gregory L. Tylka was born in Greensburg, PA. He received a B.S. degree in biology magna cum laude from California University of Pennsylvania in 1983 and remained at the university to obtain a M.S. degree in biology summa cum laude under the direction of Dr. Barry B. Hunter in 1985. He joined the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Georgia, where he, guided by Dr. Richard S. Hussey, received a Ph.D. degree summa cum laude in 1990. He then joined the faculty of the Department of Plant Pathology at Iowa State University with responsibilities in research, extension, and teaching.
Dr. Tylka has emerged as a national leader in efforts aimed at the management of the soybean cyst nematode (SCN), Heterodera glycines. In less than a decade, he has built a remarkable record of productivity and leadership for SCN education and management efforts. Dr. Tylka is one of the most requested speakers for local extension meetings because of his expertise, effective speaking style, and professional manner. He has presented information about SCN and other plant-parasitic nematodes to more than 10,000 agriculturists at over 300 extension programs in Iowa. He is one of the most frequently interviewed extension specialists at Iowa State University and, in addition to numerous popular articles in farm-related publications, he has authored several extension bulletins. The high demand for his expertise was recently demonstrated when he conducted 41 taped interviews in a single day at the 1998 National Association of Farm Broadcasters meeting.
Dr. Tylka recognized early in his career at Iowa State University that viable management practices for SCN existed. However, they were not being used because of lack of awareness among growers. In addition to his traditional educational efforts, Dr. Tylka established two websites to provide easy access to information about SCN and its management. These websites include very useful components, such as PowerPoint presentations, that can be downloaded for use by the public. He also increased awareness by establishing and promoting a low-cost soil testing service for farmers in Iowa and surrounding states that has allowed thousands of farmers to identify SCN problems. In 5 years, the number of samples received by the testing service at Iowa State University has grown 10-fold to a level of more than 5,000 samples per year. As lead principal investigator on a project that surveyed hundreds of fields in six midwestern states, Dr. Tylka and his colleagues determined that two-thirds of the fields in these states were infested with SCN.
Dr. Tylka’s most prominent recent achievement, which has impacted the entire northcentral United States, is the creation of the SCN Coalition, a multifaceted organization that involves university research and extension specialists, state soybean boards, industry, and agricultural media specialists. The goal of this group is to develop educational materials and provide training to crop producers and agricultural industry personnel. A novel strategy that emerged through the Coalition was the use of a marketing firm to “sell” farmers the idea that SCN costs them money. Marketing experts devised radio and print advertisements, different from those conventionally used in extension. Surveys of soybean producers in the North Central region indicated that farmer awareness of SCN increased 13% within 1 year.
Other aspects of Dr. Tylka’s multidisciplinary program impact his extension efforts. He and his team have investigated many aspects of SCN biology and the effects of production practices on this nematode. These include development of extensive documentation for demonstrating significant yield losses associated with SCN, in which no above-ground symptoms can be observed; collaboration on a project that identified optimal tillage practices for fields infested with SCN at different population densities; investigation of interactions of weeds, herbicides, and insect pests with SCN; the benefits of resistant varieties and crop rotation for SCN management; development of SCN management strategies using the tools of precision agriculture; and investigation of factors that influence hatching of SCN eggs. Two patents for chemicals that influence SCN egg hatch have been issued and one additional patent application is under consideration.
Dr. Tylka also has been active in teaching a graduate level plant nematology course, has served as an associate editor of Plant Disease and the Journal of Nematology, and is the Society of Nematologists’ (SON) representative to the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. He has served on numerous committees of both SON and APS and chairs the SON Extension and Public Awareness committees.