Gail Ruhl was born and raised in Ithaca, New York. She received her B.S. degree in plant sciences in 1977 from Cornell University and her M.S. degree in plant pathology from Purdue University in 1979. During graduate school, she developed an interest in plant diagnostics that led to her appointment in 1979 as the founding director and sole diagnostician of Purdue’s newly formed Plant Disease and Weed Identification Clinic. Following the creation of Purdue’s integrated Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab (PPDL) in 1990 and the hiring of an administrative director, her primary responsibility shifted to the diagnosis of plant problems for all commodity groups, including the rendering of control recommendations. Ruhl’s impact on the PPDL is evident, from the early days when the lab primarily provided basic diagnostic services to today when it is a fully integrated clinic that routinely uses molecular techniques to detect plant pathogens. In addition to her diagnostic responsibilities, she conducts the disease diagnostics portion in Master Gardener training and assists with diagnostic training for Certified Crop Advisor and Commercial Pesticide Applicator Programs. Ruhl also develops and presents youth education programs on plant pathology topics and participates in various field days and workshops. Ruhl has served as senior plant disease diagnostician at the PPDL since 1990.
As an extension plant pathologist and diagnostician, Ruhl has enthusiastically provided more than 30 years of service to the growers, nurserymen, and landscape professionals of Indiana. During her tenure in the PPDL, Ruhl has diagnosed diseases and disorders on more than 30,000 plant samples, from agronomic crops to landscape plants. Ruhl is regarded by her colleagues as one of the best diagnosticians for field crops in the United States, with extensive knowledge of corn and soybean diseases. She also works hard to make sure each sample gets the attention it deserves and that nothing of significance is overlooked. It was because of her extensive knowledge and attention to detail that Ruhl diagnosed Goss’s wilt and leaf blight on corn caused by Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. nebraskensis in Indiana for the first time in 2008. This first detection was turned into an opportunity for extension and outreach to the corn growers of Indiana. Ruhl assisted in outreach efforts by the extension specialist to inform growers at several local meetings and coauthored an extension bulletin on Goss’s wilt for Indiana. Ruhl has also been involved in several other first detections of new diseases, including Southern wilt in Mandevilla caused by Ralstonia solanacearum (biovar 3), a new record for North America; and black leg of hydroponic basil caused by Plectosporium tabacinum. In 2007, she confirmed a serious canker of European beech caused by Phytophthora citricola on a 100-year-old specimen in Indiana. This represented a new report for Indiana and the most western confirmation of this disease at the time.
In addition to her responsibilities in the clinic, Ruhl regularly shares her passion for plant diseases and diagnostics through numerous teaching and training opportunities. She travels across the state to provide training in plant pathology concepts and the art and science of diagnostics to county Master Gardener groups. She has also given many hours to helping revise and edit the plant pathology section of the Indiana Master Gardener Manual. Her popular talks are always interactive and lively. She has delivered trainings to varied audiences; from 4-H youth to corn growers and from greenhouse managers to community college students. She also gives guest lectures on diagnostics in several undergraduate classes each year.
During her career, Ruhl has been very involved in several professional organizations, including the Indiana Academy of Science, APS, and the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN). Ruhl played an integral part in the establishment of the APS Diagnostics Committee and has been active on this committee since its inception. Ruhl helped establish and served as managing editor of Plant Diagnostics Quarterly (PDQ), a newsletter sponsored by the APS Diagnostics Committee. Plant Diagnostics Quarterly published information on diagnostic techniques, the occurrence of new diseases, and disease fact sheets and helped diagnosticians stay current and connected for many years in the pre-Internet era. Ruhl also participates as a member of the APS Extension and Diseases of Ornamentals Committees. In recognition of her national reputation in plant diagnostics, Ruhl was invited to give a presentation entitled “A year in the life of a diagnostician” for a special session on careers in plant pathology held at the 2010 APS Annual Meeting.
In addition to APS, Ruhl serves on the NPDN Diagnostics Committee, the Training and Education Committee, and the Lab Accreditation Subcommittee. Ruhl also serves as editor of the Diagnostic Tips section of the monthly NPDN newsletter.