Dr. Lina Quesada was born in Bogota, Colombia, where she developed curiosity for agriculture. She obtained B. Sc. degrees in Microbiology and Biology at Universidad de Los Andes (UniAndes) to have a solid background in microbe and plant biology. An advanced course in plant-microbe interactions convinced her that studying plant diseases was her true passion. For her B. Sc. thesis, she studied genetic resistance to cassava bacterial blight at the International Center of Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). After graduation in 2005 she accepted a position at UniAndes to study Phytophthora infestans populations in Solanaceous crops, and later she was offered an internship at The Ohio State University working on P. infestans functional genomics. These experiences helped her decide that her ideal career path would blend the applied and basic aspects of plant pathology so that growers would directly benefit from her research. She then pursued a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology at Michigan State University (MSU) working on the host range, host resistance, and population structure of Phytophthora capsici. She also completed additional projects working on cucurbit downy mildew and tomato bacterial canker. After graduation in 2010, she became a postdoc at MSU to learn about plant and pathogen genomics, and a few months later she secured a NIFA Postdoctoral Fellowship and worked on Fusarium graminearum causing stalk rot of maize. In 2013 she joined the Department of Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University (NC State) as an Assistant Professor with a research and extension appointment focusing on diseases of vegetable crops.
In less than 4 years as faculty at NC State, Dr. Quesada has developed an amazingly comprehensive and impactful program that has rightfully earned the respect administration, faculty, students, growers, and other stakeholders, as well as fellow scientists at other institutions. As an early career scientist, she has published over 30 peer reviewed papers, has given over 50 invited talks, and published more than 30 Plant Disease Management Reports. She has supervised 7 graduate students, 3 postdocs, 11 undergraduate students, and served on 9 graduate student committees. Dr. Quesada represents a new paradigm of extension plant pathologist that can seamlessly integrate the fundamental sciences of genomics and molecular plant pathology into a research and extension program that addresses the needs of agricultural stakeholders.
Dr. Quesada has skillfully used the vegetable pathology experiences generated through her extension efforts to drive the development of a scholarly research program that complements and informs her extension activities. A foundational research activity has been the evaluation of the latest management strategies to reduce disease pressure in vegetable crops and timely publication of these results for use by colleagues and stakeholders. She has been a strong advocate for participating in collaborative research teams, including serving as a North Carolina (NC) representative on the national cucurbit downy mildew PIPE program. Her collaborative efforts have resulted in significant competitive funding support for her program in diseases of both cucurbits and sweetpotatoes. Dr. Quesada has strategically used these resources to quickly staff her program to explore the research questions generated by observations in her extension program. She is particularly interested in the genetic changes in pathogen populations upon application of disease management tactics such as host resistance and fungicide applications, and she has used her training in genomics to address these questions. Using next generation sequencing her team discovered genetic markers in Pseudoperonospora cubensis, the cucurbit downy mildew pathogen, that can be used to improve pathogen detection and track population shifts in virulence. Field research and population genetic analyses also determined that wild cucurbit hosts can serve as reservoirs of P. cubensis inoculum. Her lab has also conducted fungicide and variety efficacy trials that have resulted in improved integrated disease control for growers by monitoring the appearance of fungicide resistant strains or strains that overcome host resistance. Her research efforts have not only led to an impressive publication record, but they provide information that can be directly applied to improve disease management through her extension efforts.
Dr. Quesada’s program has not only earned the respect of the scientific community but also of her extension stakeholders. Her efforts were critical during a devastating epidemic of sweetpotato black rot in 2016, caused by Ceratocystis fimbriata, which has recently reemerged as a significant threat to sweetpotato production in NC, other southern US states, and Canada. This disease has historically been controlled largely through cultural management strategies and in some cases, fungicide application. Nonetheless, little is known about sweetpotato black rot and current information on host resistance and fungicide efficacy was not available. Immediately after the sudden and destructive reemergence of this disease, Dr. Quesada’s team rapidly evaluated disease control strategies, which resulted in securing a Section 18 Emergency Label that was crucial in halting the epidemic. The NC industry estimated that without this response, losses could have been as high as $141 million. She continues her efforts in better understanding the dispersal, survival, and virulence of C. fimbriata to prevent future outbreaks.
The recognized excellence of Dr. Quesada’s program in all aspects has brought multiple invitations to provide her expertise at NC State and beyond. She is a coPI in a $12 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to generate genomic tools for sweetpotato improvement in Africa (PI Yencho, NC State), a $7 million SCRI-USDA grant focused on disease resistance in cucurbit crops (PI Grumet, MSU), and a $4 million AFRI-USDA grant focused on management of downy mildew (PI Hausbeck, MSU). Dr. Quesada has served as reviewer for multiple scientific journals related to plant pathology and genomics, as well as in panels for competitive federal grants.
Dr. Quesada’s program has grown exponentially, has produced many high-quality research publications, and experienced funding success. She is remarkably adept at translating research results into valuable information to fuel her extension program, including results from very fundamental research in genomics. Her many accomplishments to date and bright future ahead make Dr. Lina Quesada deserving of the William Boright Hewitt and Maybelle Ellen Ball Hewitt Award.