Scott Adkins is a native Marylander. After completing his B.S. (1989) and M.S. (1991) at the Ohio State University, and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1996), Adkins spent three years (1996-1999) as a postdoctoral researcher studying viral RNA synthesis at Indiana University. In 1999, Adkins joined the Subtropical Plant Pathology Research Unit at USDA-ARS in Fort Pierce, FL, where he presently serves as a Research Plant Pathologist. He has developed an outstanding research program on emerging vegetable and ornamental viruses in the subtropics.
Throughout his career, Adkins has shown enthusiasm for pursuing complex and interesting scientific questions, and has served on seven graduate student committees and attracted aspiring international scientists to his laboratory. This has led to his mentoring, inspiring and advancing the careers of 25 visiting scientists, postdocs, undergraduate students and technicians, who have gone on to successful careers in science in the U.S. and abroad. A 16-year collaboration with a local college has fostered multiple interactions between plant pathology and education for pre-graduate school students.
Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) and other tospoviruses have been a mainstay of Adkins’ research for the past 26 years. He provided the first demonstration of TSWV virion-associated RNA-dependent RNA polymerase and other enzyme activities, and collaborated to show the first proteolytic processing and glycosylation of TSWV proteins, while in graduate school. Other virologists have used these experimental systems for subsequent studies of TSWV and its thrips vector that were not previously possible. He and collaborators also created a system using mutants of a simpler, more genetically amenable positive-sense virus as tools to provide the first functional demonstration of the TSWV movement protein, a task long stymied by the lack of a useful reverse genetics system for this negative-sense virus. Recently, Adkins and co-workers identified the first known interspecies tospovirus reassortant, containing genomic RNAs of both Groundnut ringspot virus (GRSV, a TSWV relative) and Tomato chlorotic spot virus (TCSV, another TSWV relative). Description of this novel reassortant has required revision to previous virological theory regarding the ability of tospovirus species to reassort, and resulted in national and international interest from commodity groups, scientists and regulatory agencies. Adkins’ team is at the leading edge of this emerging area of virology, with their results being used to set regulatory and research funding priorities, especially since TCSV is now the predominant tospovirus in south Florida and the Caribbean. His work led to plenary speaker invitations for the last three International Thrips and Tospoviruses Symposia (2005, 2009, 2015). Adkins is also well-known for his bromovirus RNA synthesis studies early in his career with definition of minimal subgenomic RNA promoters as a postdoc, and later development of novel means to isolate small quantities of viral polymerases from infected protoplasts at USDA-ARS, both of which permitted detailed examination of viral RNA synthesis.
Adkins’ fundamental research advances are linked to applied research and outreach, with improved detection and management of TSWV (one of the world’s most economically important viruses), TCSV and GRSV being prime examples. His innovative research on viral watermelon vine decline, a disease threatening survival of the southeastern U.S. watermelon industry, demonstrated that a novel whitefly-transmitted ipomovirus [now known as Squash vein yellowing virus (SqVYV)], causes the decline even though symptoms are more reminiscent of a fungal or bacterial pathogen. Viral watermelon vine decline, estimated by the National Watermelon Association to have cost Florida growers alone at least $60 million in the early 2000s, defied explanation until Adkins and a multi-agency team he assembled and led began studying it in 2004. Development of basic SqVYV biological knowledge and detection techniques (later used by Adkins and others to identify SqVYV in other regions and countries), and definition of common cucurbit weed reservoirs, set research priorities and form the basis for current management options. Adkins is also well-known for his stakeholder-requested research yielding effective sanitation procedures for tobamovirus management, currently being extended with collaborators to different virus genera in ornamentals, vegetables and weeds. He has developed a broad overview of pathogen ecology in the agro-ecosystem transcending commodities by detection, identification and timely reporting of causal pathogens of multiple vegetable/ornamental disease outbreaks, and shown that non-crop hosts and human involvement must be considered when developing management strategies.
Adkins has an extraordinary ability to balance advancement of basic research and make impactful contributions to applied research and outreach, while simultaneously serving in major APS leadership capacities. He currently chairs the Scientific Program Committee for the 2018 International Congress of Plant Pathology at request of the APS presidential lineage, extending from his prior active involvement in APS annual meeting scientific planning from 2001-2013. He served two terms as Section Chair and continued with two terms as Director of the Scientific Program Board (SPB). As Director he oversaw SPB transition in name and role to the Annual Meeting Board (AMB; following APS governance reform), and led scientific programming efforts for all annual meetings from 2008-2013. Due to his SPB/AMB service, Adkins was regularly invited to participate in the Strategic Leadership Forum (2002-2013), had multiple APS presidential appointments to ad hoc committees (including the APS annual meeting review in 2016), and was named the 2013 APS Outstanding Volunteer. He is a 17-year member of the APS Virology Committee (served as Vice-Chair and Chair), a member of the APS-APHIS Widely Prevalent Virus Committee (2015-present), and was the sole Disease Notes Assigning Editor on the Plant Disease Editorial Board (2006-2009). Adkins is also active in and has held concurrent leadership positions in the International Legume and Vegetable Virus Working Group and International Symposium on Virus Diseases of Ornamental Plants, and served on scientific and/or organizing committees for numerous international meetings.
Scott Adkins is an exceptional scientist and committed APS leader, who has made fundamental advances to lead science forward, while developing and extending real-world applications for agriculture. He is renowned for his expertise in vegetable and ornamental viruses, and sought by research and Extension colleagues, regulatory agencies, growers and commodity groups for advice in unraveling diseases of uncertain etiology, establishment of regulations, and disease management practices.