Thomas J. Burr was born in Oshkosh, WI. He earned a B.S. degree in agricultural science and an M.S. degree in plant pathology from the University of Arizona. He obtained his Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from the University of California, Berkeley. As a graduate student at Berkeley, he was the first of Dr. Milton Schroth’s students to investigate the effects of plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria on potatoes. He joined Cornell University at the Geneva campus in 1977 as assistant professor. He was promoted to professor in 1991. His research has focused on the biology and control of bacterial and fungal diseases of fruit crops.
Dr. Burr is well-known for his many accomplishments in research concerning Agrobacterium vitis, the cause of grape crown gall. This work has led to the development of strategies that are used for managing this important disease in vineyards. He confirmed the systemic survival of A. vitis in grape, a phenomenon that has since been verified in many viticultural regions worldwide and has led to the discovery that the pathogen had contaminated many sources of propagation material. He and his colleagues developed methods for indexing grape cuttings for A. vitis that include the development and use of a species-specific monoclonal antibody. The indexing and eradication procedures are being implemented on a commercial scale for the production of grapevines that are free of A. vitis.
Recently, it has been demonstrated in Dr. Burr’s laboratory that certain strains of nontumorigenic A. vitis greatly inhibit or prevent grape crown gall caused by tumorigenic strains. Although some of the biological controls produce bacteriocins, it was demonstrated that these are not associated with biological control on grape.
Dr. Burr has also made significant contributions to research on streptomycin resistance in plant-pathogenic bacteria. Together with Dr. J. Norelli at Cornell, it was discovered that genetic determinants for streptomycin resistance in Pseudomonas syringae pv. papulans are carried on conjugative plasmids. Resistance determinants were cloned and used as probes to study the prevalence of this type of resistance in bacteria in apple orchards. Currently, Dr. Burr and colleagues are developing streptomycin resistance management strategies based on ecological fitness of resistant strains and on the use of alternative controls.
Dr. Burr has served as chairperson of the APS Bacteriology Committee and on the Chemical Control Committee. He is currently councilor-elect for the Northeastern Division of APS and a senior editor of APS Press. Dr. Burr was previously honored by APS in receiving the Ciba Geigy and Lee M. Hutchins Awards in 1986 and 1990, respectively.