Richard C. Hamelin is an international leader and a pioneer in the field of molecular forest pathology. He is passionate about forest health, fungi and genomics. Over the last 30 years, he has innovated by integrating molecular biology and genomics with the study of tree diseases. His research contributions cover a breadth of topics, from population genetics, genomics, host-pathogen interactions, diagnostics and detection methods, to insect-fungi symbioses, tree disease resistance and microbial diversity. His contributions were recognized by multiple awards and recognitions, notably the International Union of Forest Research Organization Scientific Achievement Award (2014), the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012) and Merit Awards from Natural Resources Canada (2008) and the Canadian Forest Service (2008).
Richard was born in the Mauricie region and raised in the Gaspésie region of Quebec, Canada. He was never far from the forest and that is where he developed his passion for nature. He received degrees from McGill University, Montréal, QC (BSc agriculture, 1982), Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC (MS of pest management, 1986) and the University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY (PhD in plant pathology, 1991). After postdoctoral fellowships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture—Forest Service in Gulfport, MS (1991-1992) and the Centre de Recherche en Biologie Forestière, Université Laval, QC (June 1992), he was hired as a research scientist at the Laurentian Forestry Center of the Canadian Forest Service in Québec. Hamelin has been adjunct professor at Université Laval in Quebec since 1994 (invited professor since 2015) and at the University of British Columbia (UBC) since 2006. Since 2010 he is professor of forest pathology at the Faculty of Forestry at UBC.
Hamelin's research aims to develop methods, tools and approaches to improve our ability to identify, detect, monitor and track pathogens of trees. He was at the forefront of the development of the field of molecular epidemiology of plant pathogens, applying population genetics concepts to answer questions about introduction, colonization patterns, and spread of native and invasive pathogens. He contributed to the development of a universal DNA barcode for fungi that allowed the research community to build tools and databases that have been instrumental in defining and recognizing fungal and oomycete taxa. Hamelin has led and collaborated in international consortia to sequence, compare and characterize the genomes of plant pathogens. This led to the identification of gene sets that can be used to define and predict the pathogenicity toolbox and to assess the contribution of hybridization, introgression, recombination and horizontal gene transfer to adaptation and pathogenicity. His work showed that biotrophic pathogens such as rust fungi have a reduced set of cell wall lysis genes, which is consistent with their stealth infection strategy. His comparative genome analyses of stem and foliar pathogens of poplar have shed light on genes acquired and expressed by wood-attacking pathogens that allow them to exploit a new niche. Hamelin has also helped improve our knowledge of how fungi and insects interact, especially in symbiotic interactions between bark beetles and Ophiostomatoid fungi. He identified the evolutionary signature of niche adaptation and genome size reduction in blue stain fungal symbionts of the mountain pine beetle. An important part of Hamelin's contribution to plant pathology is his translational work, in particular, his development and use of genomic resources for the elaboration of DNA tools to detect and monitor pathogens. His research group has contributed novel assays, methods and approaches to improve the detection and monitoring of forest pathogens as well as markers and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) for strain genotyping and lineage and race identification.
Hamelin's approach to research has been to assemble large teams to address the health challenges faced by forests. He has been the leader of several large-scale multidisciplinary research projects worth over $50M. He led or co-led four projects funded by Genome Canada, including the Tree Aggressors Identification using Genomic Approaches (TAIGA) and the BioSurveillance of Alien Forest Enemies (BioSAFE) projects. These multidisciplinary projects have gathered teams of plant pathologists, entomologists, genomicists, bioinformaticians, modelers, economists and social scientists with the aim to develop genomic biosurveillance networks to increase our capacity to detect potential invasive species, identify their source and assess the risk they pose.
Hamelin has played leadership roles in several professional societies, including APS. He served as senior editor (2009- 2012) and associate editor (2007-2009) of Phytopathology and organized several APS workshops and symposia. He was a member of the Forest Pathology Committee (1997-2001) and published the book Forest Pathology: From Genes to Landscapes at APS PRESS. Hamelin was president of the Canadian Phytopathological Society (2004-2005) and the Québec Society for Plant Protection (1998-1999); he was associate editor of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research (1994-2000) and section editor of the Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology (2008-2017).
Hamelin's multidisciplinary approach to answering complex research questions, along with his capacity for bringing together scientists of various expertise have been key to his success. He has an impressive scientific output, with more than 150 peer-reviewed publications that have been cited over 9300 times, with an h-index of 40, and an i10-index of 125. He has delivered over 100 invited presentations around the world, including keynote and plenary addresses. Hamelin has also communicated and interacted with stakeholders and end-users to ensure the relevance of the research he leads. The tools and methods developed by his team are used in diagnostic labs in Canada, the United States, and other countries. As an inspirational role model for young scientists he has participated in the training and education of the next generation of plant pathologists by teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in forest pathology, forest ecology, biotic disturbances, and sustainable forest management. He has supervised 30 MSc and PhD students, 17 post-doctoral fellows and 12 research staff, many of whom have faculty positions or research jobs in government labs, NGOs, or companies.
In recognition of his contributions to forest pathology and his inspiring role as a mentor to the future generation of forest pathologists, Hamelin is most deserving of recognition as a fellow of the American Phytopathological Society.
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