This award recognizes outstanding contributions to plant pathology by APS members whose primary employment involves work outside the university and federal realms either for profit or nonprofit.
Syngenta Crop Protection
Gilberto Olaya started his career with Syngenta in 1997 when he joined legacy company Zeneca Agrochemicals at the Western Research Center in California as an R&D scientist. Prior to this, he was a postdoctoral scientist in Wolfram Koehler's Lab at Cornell University, where he also received his PhD and MS degrees in George Abawi's research program. Following the formation of Syngenta, Olaya was relocated to the Vero Beach Research Center (VBRC), Florida in 2001, where he joined an active disease control group. He is an expert in the area of fungicide resistance, a critical function for delivery on Syngenta's commitment to fungicide stewardship. In his early days, Olaya worked closely with the fungicide development group at Jealott's Hill in the United Kingdom, playing a key role in understanding fungicide biology and the resistance profile of azoxystrobin. At the time, azoxystrobin was a breakthrough fungicide representing the first in a new mode of action (QoI) and chemical class of fungicides. Azoxystrobin is now globally recognized as the most successful fungicide ever developed. Olaya's contribution to the establishment and continued success of the azoxystrobin has been immense and has had global impact. He has greatly contributed to understanding resistance mechanisms and population dynamics of strobilurin resistance in crop diseases. He detected and detailed the polymorphism(s) controlling resistance and the frequency of the respective alleles in pathogen populations. The data generated in Olaya's lab has been essential to improving fungicide recommendations to overcome QoI resistance, as well as for development of new fungicides. The impacts of his discoveries have been profound, guiding both lead generation for new fungicides and developing anti-resistance strategies using existing active ingredients. In recent years, Olaya has played a key role in understanding the resistance profiles and characteristics of a number of newly introduced Syngenta fungicides, including mandipropamid, sedaxane, solatenol, oxathiapiprolin and adepidyn. Collectively these fungicides have helped prevent crops losses and ensured stable agricultural production from millions of acres around the USA and beyond. Olaya has turned his attention to the succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor (SDHI) class of fungicides due to the renewed interest in this class. He has discovered, characterized, and documented complex allelic variations conferring resistance to several SDHI fungicides in a number of key crop pathogens. His discoveries, although proprietary in nature, have led to anti-resistance strategies that are prolonging the useful life and availability of these fungicides to growers. His knowledge of plant pathology, taxonomy, mycology, and fungicide resistance of the fungal pathogens used for experimentation is unmatched in North America and very possibly globally within Syngenta. He provides technical updates on his research on fungicide resistance to the plant pathology community. He is well accepted and highly regarded among academics in the field of fungicide resistance. His high standing in the field of fungicide resistance within Syngenta was particularly evident at several Syngenta Technical Excellence Meetings (STEM) held between 2013 and 2017, where he presented Syngenta's keynote speech to selected academics from North America. Insights in Olaya's professional network were recently summarized by Helge Sierotzki, head of Disease Control at Syngenta, “He has collaborations with many different universities throughout the United States; from Cornell University, New York State to the University of Kentucky, North Dakota State University, University of Florida, Michigan State University, North Carolina State University, and many more." Not only has Olaya developed strong collaborative relationships, he has put these to good use as Eric Tedford, technical product lead for fungicides at Syngenta, says “He has collaborated closely with many of our global colleagues on resistance research projects over the years, as well as spoken at professional meetings across the globe." Further evidence of his high level of technical knowledge and respect within the scientific community comes from Olaya's representation in the Fungicide Resistance Action Committee (FRAC) where he serves as the chair of the North American section (NAFRAC) and is a member of the FRAC Steering Committee. As part of CropLife International, FRAC is a highly respected and influential industry group in the field of fungicide development. As NAFRAC chair, Olaya coordinates activities among four working groups and serves as a liaison between companies and governing bodies. Olaya regularly provides training to commercial and technical teams covering everything from fungicide resistance and new products to pipeline developments on fungicides or seed treatments. His great skill is simplifying complex information, so it is well understood by his audience. Tedford writes, “He has trained several colleagues over the years, and together they have produced bountiful data to support fungicide resistance stewardship." Sierotzki says “…due to his vast experience Olaya is a constant source of knowledge and information…". Olaya has mentored a number of early career scientists who are now successful scientists in their own right. Over the years, Olaya has played an active role in The American Phytopathological Society (APS), serving in various volunteer roles. He has been a member of the Pathogen Resistance committee since its formation, has chaired the committee and organized several symposia and workshops on fungicide resistance. Olaya is also currently a member of the APS Seed Pathology and Tropical Plant Pathology committees and is the current divisional forum representative for the APS Caribbean Division.
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