Robert Douglas Lumsden was born in Washington, D.C., in 1938. After graduating from high School in Falls Church, VA, he attended Randolph Macon College before transferring to North Carolina State University, where he received his B.S. degree in botany and horticulture in 1961. During the summers of 1958 and 1959, he worked as an assistant in the Plant Pathology Section of the National Capital Parks in Washington, D.C. He continued his studies at North Carolina State University and received his M.S. degree in 1963. He completed his Ph.D. degree under D. F. Bateman at Cornell University in 1967, in the physiology of parasitism and the role of pectolytic, proteolytic, and phosphatide-degrading enzymes produced by Thielaviopsis basicola. While in graduate school, he received assistantships and fellowship awards from the National Defense Education Act and the National Institutes of Health.
In 1966, Dr. Lumsden accepted a USDA-ARS position as a research plant pathologist at what has become the Biocontrol of Plant Diseases Laboratory in Beltsville, MD. Dr. Lumsden’s initial research focused on the physiology of Sclerotinia infection of bean. In a series of publications, Dr. Lumsden developed an understanding of the physiology of Sclerotinia infections and the mechanism of pathogenesis. Key enzymes were implicated. This accomplishment provided the first basic knowledge of the sequence of physiologic events that occur during pathogenesis by Sclerotinia. The process was further elucidated by a study of the histopathology and histochemistry of infected plants.
Dr. Lumsden is recognized for his expertise on Pythium, Rhizoctonia, and Sclerotinia and the ecology of soils naturally infested with these pathogens. Ecological studies resulted in identification of microorganisms potentially useful as biocontrol agents. Dr. Lumsden investigated the physiology of oospore formation, ecology of dormancy and survival of Pythium spp., and histopathology of Pythium infection. Additional ecological studies recognized the importance of municipal sludge compost as a resource for low input sustainable agriculture for plant disease control. Dr. Lumsden and his research team demonstrated suppression by composts of Pythium damping-off and Sclerotinia rot. Related to these studies, he investigated the only operational manmade suppressive soils in the Americas (the Aztec chinampa and Mayan popal systems). Dr. Lumsden led a U.S.-Mexican project supported and funded by the USDA. He established that suppressiveness in Mexican agricultural soils to Pythium damping-off is associated with elevated organic matter, calcium content, and enhanced disease-suppressive microbial activity. Specific isolates of microbial antagonists, including Pseudomonas cepacia, were identified and shown to be effective in biological control of Pythium damping- off.
In 1987, Dr. Lumsden received an ARS fellowship for work at the Agricultural Food Research Council, Glasshouse Crops Research Institute (GCRI) in Littlehampton, England. While at GCRI, Dr. Lumsden conducted research on the mechanism of action of Gliocladium virens antagonism toward Pythium ultimum and damping-off of lettuce. After returning to Beltsville, Dr. Lumsden led a team to characterize the mechanism of action of G. virens, establishing the importance and presence in soilless potting media of the fungal antibiotic gliotoxin. This discovery demonstrated the presence of a fungus-produced antibiotic in soilless potting media with biological activity against soilborne plant pathogens. Further work has shown that certain proteins are associated with strains of G. virens that produce gliotoxin. Work on production of antibodies to these proteins, purification of the proteins, and determination of amino acid sequences will serve as the basis for future studies on genes of G. virens associated with biological control and long-range improvement in biocontrol performance. Research led by Dr. Lumsden over the past decade on biological control of Pythium and Rhizoctonia damping-off of seedlings and bedding plants by G. virens resulted in the registration of strain GL-21 for disease control by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This biocontrol agent is now available as the commercial product SoilGard and is one of the first U.S.-developed mycofungicides effective against these diseases. Four U.S. patents resulted from this and related work.
Since 1992, Dr. Lumsden has been research leader of the Biocontrol of Plant Diseases Laboratory. He also has led a research team investigating the characteristics of ubiquitous Fusarium species in relation to biological control. Fusarium spp. are being studied (i) for biological control of diseases caused by Fusarium spp. by various antagonists, (ii) for the potential of isolates of F. oxysporum as antagonistic biocontrol agents for inducing resistance to other Fusarium diseases and soilborne plant pathogens, and (iii) as host-specific mycoherbicidal biocontrol agents. This research has potential for solving national and international problems with disease losses and for control of undesirable plants.
Dr. Lumsden has received several awards, including the Underwood Fellowship Award from the British Agriculture and Food Research Council, USDA/ARS awards for leadership and technology transfer, and a USDA award for the research leading to SoilGard. Dr. Lumsden has been active in APS, serving as organizer and chair of workshops, discussions, and paper sessions at national and division meetings. Recently, he was coorganizer of Beltsville Symposium XVIII, Pest Management: Biologically Based Strategies, and served as senior editor of the symposium proceedings. Dr. Lumsden has published over 200 papers, book chapters, abstracts, and articles and has presented numerous invited talks worldwide. He has served on the editorial boards of Plant Disease Reporter, Annual Review of Phytopathology, and Biocontrol Science and Technology.