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2024 Excellence in Industry: Abigail Stack​


Abigail (“Abbie") Stack, M.S., is an accomplished plant pathologist focused on modernizing genomic technology. As a champion of innovation, she has spent her career researching and developing new molecular technologies to identify solutions that are accurate, automatable, faster, and more cost efficient for Bayer's industry-leading pipeline for plant genetic analysis, ultimately contributing to revolutionizing the plant pathology industry. She uses cutting-edge tools, methods, and devices that will lead to better products for growers and support Bayer's mission of Health for All, Hunger for None. 

Born in Lafayette, IN, Stack received her B.S. degree in interdisciplinary science from Purdue University and then went on to obtain an M.S. degree in plant pathology from the University of California, Davis. She discovered and described a new fungal species, Fusarium californicum, in cold-stored almond seedlings. Her epidemiological work with this pathogen was published in the journal Plant Disease. The discovered fungus is part of a species complex that devastates almond orchards, costing millions of dollars per year in lost revenues. She worked on determining the etiology and epidemiology of this complex and made management recommendations to growers through the California Almond Board. 

In 2016, Stack joined Bayer (legacy Monsanto) as a vegetable discovery pathology senior research specialist, where she identified innovative molecular diagnostic processes to detect key pathogens. She tested and implemented LAMP, a molecular technique that can replace the commonly used PCR method. LAMP reduced turnaround time for detection by 95%, and costs associated with these techniques by 70%. Stack also implemented Oxford Nanopore sequencing, a disruptive technology that significantly reduced turnaround time and costs. These modernizations earned her a Bayer Vegetable R&D Innovation Award in 2017 and a Newcomer Award in 2019. 

Advancing at Bayer, Stack also led two international projects as a pathology scientist to develop and deploy viral resistance traits in tomato and pepper, with a combined potential market value of $67 million. By 2025, Bayer's grower customers will experience fewer losses from important viral diseases in North American, South American, and European markets. As the team's viral disease and molecular diagnostic expert, Stack also implemented high-throughput sequencing for diagnostic and phytosanitation purposes, protecting crops from disease outbreaks, tracking emerging disease issues globally and maintaining the company's freedom to operate. 

In 2019, Stack joined a team of four scientists who launched a company internally within Bayer to bring molecular plant disease diagnostics to their grower customers. Serving as the technical lead, she received a Bayer Pinnacle Award in Leadership for laboratory process improvements, customer acquisition and outreach, UX/UI testing, and assisting with product development. 

In 2021, Stack completed a six-month short-term assignment as the Interim NAM cell biology operations lead at Bayer. She and her team of seven were responsible for executing double-haploid processes for two key vegetable crops that decreased breeding-pipeline-to-product timelines by almost 90%. During her time in this role, she also initiated a new project looking at the use of automated imaging for melon embryo selection. Her dedication to scientific innovation is exemplified by her launch of a new technology project within a brief six-month assignment. 

Since October 2022, Stack has led the development of short- and long-term strategies for genotyping and automation needs for Bayer's industry-leading plant genetic screening pipeline as the genotyping innovation and technologies lead within plant biotechnology. She is responsible for scouting, scoping, and overseeing proof-of-concept testing for new technologies that enable genetic assessment, and she helps to foster a culture of innovation within the larger Precision Genomics team. Her contributions earned her the 2023 Bayer Women in Science Exchange (WiSE) Woman of the Year Award. 

Since 2012, Stack has been an active member of APS, serving on multiple boards and steering committees, including the Early Career Professionals Committee, Leadership Institute Steering Committee, and, currently, as an Annual Meeting Board member. She has presented, organized, and moderated at the APS Annual Meeting on 6 occasions over the last 11 years. Her most impactful accomplishment has arguably been the establishment of the APS Speed Mentorship Program that she founded in 2021. 

Stack has received recognition for her work, both internally by Bayer and externally by industry publications. In 2022, Stack was named a Bayer Fellow at age 30, the youngest to be awarded this honor in the company's history. This not only showcases her technical ability, but the larger impact her research has had on the industry overall. She has been published in four peer-reviewed scientific publications, authored an article on innovation for the Association for Women in Science Magazine, and filed two invention disclosures. She's been invited as a speaker at the international Oxford Nanopore Conference, APS meetings, Iowa State Plant Pathology Graduate Seminar, Bayer Winegrape Symposium, and more. She has presented at Bayer symposia and events, including the annual R&D conference, global Vegetable R&D meetings, WiSE events, and the Fellows Seminar Series. 

In addition to Stack's career and scientific contributions, she is a top mentor in the scientific community, advising the next generation of students and scientists. She participates in Letters to a Pre-Scientist, a program which aims to match middle school students in rural and underserved communities with scientists. Additionally, she led a mentorship program for the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) Sacramento Chapter (2018-2021) and the revitalization of the long dormant St. Louis Chapter of AWIS, where she now serves as president and founder, reaching approximately 200 women monthly and providing them with networking and career development opportunities. In 2022, she was awarded the national AWIS Spark Award, highlighting early-career leaders in STEM who are advocates for diversity and inclusive scientific practices. You also can find Stack contributing vulnerably and authentically about the importance of mental health on LinkedIn. 

Stack's career contributions are significant. With her leadership and dedication to advancing genomic technology and evolving molecular diagnostic processes, while mentoring the next generation of scientists and advocating for women's careers in science, the field of plant pathology will continue to benefit from her knowledge, commitment, leadership, and collaboration.