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​2023 Hewitt Award: Edel Pérez López​

Edel Pérez López was born in Güines, La Habana, Cuba, a small agricultural town where his family made a living off farming. He earned his B.Sc. degree in Biochemistry in 2011 and discovered his passion for phytopathology while working as a junior researcher at the bacteriology department of the National Institute for Tropical Fruit Sciences in Havana, Cuba. During his two-year tenure, Dr. Pérez López worked on various projec​ts focused on the distribution of 'Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus' and Huanglongbing (HLB) disease in Cuba. He also spearheaded the report of two new diseases associated with the presence of phytoplasmas in Cuba, while establishing certification programs to halt the spread of the disease in citrus-producing areas.

In 2013, Dr. Pérez López began his Ph.D. project on maize bushy stunt at the Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico, where he worked with small communities growing native varieties of corn. In addition to receiving a Ph.D. scholarship funded by Conacyt, he also received a mobility scholarship to visit the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research station in Saskatoon, Canada. There, he developed several projects related to phytoplasma diseases found in both Mexico and Canada. After completing his Ph.D. in 2016, Dr. Pérez López finished several ongoing projects at AAFC Saskatoon as a visiting scientist before joining the Department of Entomology & Plant Pathology at Auburn University as a postdoctoral fellow under the supervision of Prof. Leonardo De La Fuente as part of a NIFA project investigating HLB disease. He subsequently joined the Biology Department at the University of Saskatchewan to study the clubroot pathogen Plasmodiophora brassicae.

Dr. Pérez López accepted a position as an assistant professor of plant pathology in the Department of Plant Science at Laval University, Quebec, Canada in 2020. In this role, he studies the devastating clubroot pathogen and its interaction with canola, the main cash crop in Canada. His research aims to understand the mechanisms used by the pathogen when interacting with susceptible and resistant hosts and to use this knowledge to develop new elite cultivars with a high resistance spectrum. He is making original contributions in several areas, with a special focus on the identification and characterization of P. brassicae effector proteins used by the clubroot pathogen to evade plant immunity. In his first two years as faculty, his team secured over $2.5 million from federal, provincial, and private sources (NSERC, CFI, Canola Growers). As an early career scientist, he has published 61 peer-reviewed papers, given over 22 invited talks, published five book chapters, and edited one book. He is supervising ten graduate students, and three postdocs, has trained 14 undergraduate students and served on ten graduate student committees. Although Dr. Pérez López's research program focuses on P. brassicae, he is also developing other projects that will directly benefit growers in solving disease problems of particular importance in Quebec. For instance, he leads a project investigating the impact of climate change on disease dispersal by insect vectors. This project will contribute to stopping further damages caused by bacterial diseases in strawberry fields, a crop worth $15 million to the Quebec economy. Other projects in which he plays a key role include the Research Chair in greenhouse crop protection aimed at reducing the impact of diseases in the greenhouse industry, an important source of fresh produce in Canada during the long winter months.

Through all his projects, Dr. Pérez López remains true to one goal: to mitigate the damages and economic losses caused by pathogens and achieve more sustainable agriculture. His team has already identified and characterized several clubroot effectors that could be the key to developing new resistant canola cultivars. Another ambitious project ongoing in his lab is ClubGenoEvo (, a global initiative to understand clubroot evolution and diversity. The objective is to create the largest collection of P. brassicae isolates in the world, an invaluable resource for canola and brassica breeders around the globe. Incidentally, his team has recently identified the clubroot pathogen in Mexico (Editor's Pick at Plant Disease) and has already obtained isolates from twelve different countries in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. Using next-generation sequencing and phenotyping, his team will identify P. brassicae avirulence genes, advance canola breeding, and create the largest genomic collection for this pathogen. In just a few short years, Dr. Pérez López has become a leader in the study of clubroot and has established strong collaborations in Canada and worldwide, securing funding from canola growers associations, NSERC, provincial, and private sources like the agricultural company BASF.

Dr. Pérez López is also committed to teaching plant pathology, and he has developed new classes focused on plant-pathogen interactions as part of the Bachelor's and graduate programs in agronomy at Laval University. He is expected to oversee the undergraduate course of phytopathology in the coming years. In the meantime, he is also actively collaborating with several courses covering different aspects of plant protection, such as Introduction to Agroecology and Cannabis Culture. As a gay emigrant scientist, he is committed to helping those from underrepresented groups in academia. For this reason, he has been actively involved with the American Phytopathological Society's Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and made a substantial donation to support the LGBTQ+ Mixer during Plant Health 2023. His role as an activist for LGBTQ+ rights has reached other scientific societies such as the Canadian Phytopathological Society, where he has organized a workshop about equity, diversity, and inclusion in academia. He also gave a plenary talk during Plant Biology 2022 about his experience as a gay plant pathologist representing the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists.

In conclusion, Dr. Pérez López's research program has grown steadily since he arrived at Laval University, producing many high-quality research publications, and securing impressive funding. He has been actively involved with APS as a Senior Editor of Plant Disease and looks forward to further involvement as the chair of other committees.