Dr. Mathews L. Paret is from Kerala, a state in Southwest India, which is famous in the production and trade of many spices including ginger. Dr. Paret completed his Bachelors in Agriculture (1999) and Masters in Horticulture (2001) from Allahabad Agricultural Institute, India. What guided Dr. Paret to the United States in spring 2005 for higher studies was his passion towards working on the management of bacterial wilt of ginger caused by Ralstonia solanacearum, which is a major disease in his home state and worldwide on many crops. Working with Dr. Anne M. Alvarez as his major advisor at the University for Hawaii at Manoa, Dr. Paret received his Ph.D. in 2009. He joined as a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Florida, North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC), in September 2009 under the guidance of Dr. Timur M. Momol and Dr. Stephen M. Olson. He was appointed an Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology at NFREC and the Department of Plant Pathology, University of Florida in November 2010. Some of his major findings since then include identification of many R. solanacearum resistant hybrid rootstocks for grafting a susceptible variety, demonstration of the utility of the hybrid rootstocks in management of Meloidogyne incognita, a root knot nematode species, and determination of the effectiveness in integrating grafting and drip application of a Systemic Resistance Inducer for management of bacterial wilt disease. These approaches have consistently shown to reduce bacterial wilt incidence by 60-80% in field trials in Florida and Virginia. Many growers are already using a Systemic Resistance Inducer recommended by Dr. Paret for bacterial wilt management. His research in this area is expected to have a major impact in disease management over the next 3-5 years. Dr. Paret, through his significant contributions to research on R. solancearum, is a rising global leader in the development of IPM approaches for bacterial wilt management.
Since joining University of Florida as a faculty, Dr. Paret has developed a highly significant research program on nanomaterials against bacterial spot on tomato caused by Xanthomonas perforans. Currently, all strains of X. perforans present in Florida are copper-tolerant and his research and collaborative efforts has led to the discovery of many innovative approaches to address this issue. This includes photocatalytic nanomaterials, Ag nanomaterials bound to dsDNA and graphene oxide, engineered copper nanomaterials and metal oxide nanomaterials, which have shown promise against copper-tolerant strains of X. perforans. Dr. Paret’s program is the first established nanotechnology program in plant pathology in the United States involved in micro-macro scale development and testing of nanomaterials. It is important to note that Dr. Paret is leading an interdisciplinary team including major researchers in chemistry, bacteriology, plant pathology, horticulture, and toxicology in many institutions in the country and abroad in this area. A good indicator of the recognition of his research and leadership is the invitation to attend and present at the Gordon Research Conference on Nanoscale Science & Engineering for Agriculture & Food Systems, and the American Society for Horticultural Science Annual Meeting in 2015.
Another area where Dr. Paret has made considerable impact is in the detection and characterization of new plant pathogens in Florida and abroad. In the past five years, Dr. Paret’s team discovered five new plant pathogens in Florida including Rose rosette virus on Roses, Cucumber mosaic virus on Scotch bonnet peppers, Xanthomonas axonopodis causing bacterial leaf spot on crape myrtle, Turnip mosaic virus on Ethiopian mustard, and Cylindrocladium pseudonaviculatum causing Boxwood blight. Of significant impact are discoveries of Rose rosette virus and C. pseudonaviculatum in commercial nurseries in Florida for which early intervention and education programs organized by Dr. Paret led to the eradication of these two pathogens from Florida. During this time, Dr. Paret’s team developed a multiplex real-time PCR assay that differentiates four Xanthomonas species associated with bacterial spot of tomato. His team discovered novel strains of Pseudomonas syringae that infects watermelon and other cucurbits that are genetically different than the previously described Pseudomonas syringae pv. lachrymans strains, the causal agent of angular leaf spot on cucurbits. His team’s research on the genetic diversity of Didymella bryoniae, the causal agent of gummy stem blight of watermelon and other cucurbits, led to the finding of genetically unique isolates in Florida and Georgia. Dr. Paret’s program on detection and characterization of many economically relevant plant pathogens in Florida, in Africa on R. solanacearum and in China on D. bryoniae as a young and beginning scientist is notable. This highlights the national and international perspective he has taken in understanding the diversity of plant pathogens; thereby, making his projects interesting and generating highly useful information for plant pathologists worldwide.
Dr. Paret conducts an outstanding extension program in Florida and has been highly successful in disseminating information on vegetable and ornamental crop diseases to extension agents and commercial growers through hands-on training programs and presentations at various state and regional meetings. Of particular significance is the interactive education platform named U- Scout that he developed for the University of Florida so that the latest findings from field trials and discoveries on plant pathogens are easily reported to extension agents, commercial scouts, industry personnel, master gardeners and commercial growers. This web site includes plant disease databases on tomato, cucurbits, brassica, pepper, hydrangea, rose, crape myrtle and magnolia (1000+ high quality pictures of plant diseases and mostly field shots as how extension agents would see it in the field), plant disease blogs, pest alerts, extension tutorials, a section for what diseases to watch out for each growing season and many others. Apart from the excellent presence in web-based platforms, Dr. Paret has numerous extension publications relevant to the current production issues and has been actively participating in vegetable and ornamental crop production handbooks in Florida and the Southeast. Dr. Paret’s extension program has been creative and led to major economic benefits for vegetable and ornamental crop producers in Florida in the last 5 years because of accurate and timely detection and effective disease management recommendations.