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​​2020 APS Fellow​

​The society grants this honor to a current APS member in recognition of distinguished contributions to plant pathology or to The American Phytopathological Society. Fellow recognition is based on significant contributions in one or more of the following areas: original research, teaching, administration, professional and public service, and/or extension and outreach.

Valérie Verdier
IRD, France

Valérie Verdier is a native of France and earned her PhD in plant pathology from the University of Paris XI in Orsay (1988), where she investigated the disease dynamics of bacterial blight of cassava. Verdier's thesis set the foundation for future studies on strain characterization, pathogen evolution, epidemiology and pathogenesis in the Xanthomonas-cassava pathosystem. In 1988, she joined the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), working internationally to advance understanding on the basic and applied factors that impact crop production of cassava and rice, both important staple food crops in developing nations. Later, she worked for 6 years at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia to develop and manage a large cassava disease project focused on characterizing the pathogen populations and finding sources of resistance. In 2001, Verdier joined the University of Perpignan (France) where she managed the cassava genomics project in collaboration with CIAT. At Perpignan, she built a new research team that focused on understanding the emergence of bacterial blight disease of rice in West Africa and on building capacity in plant pathology and disease management in these high-risk regions. In 2003 she obtained her Habilitation a Diriger des Recherches (HDR), the highest achievement in the French academic system. In 2006, she moved her laboratory to IRD in Montpellier (France) where she led a research team focused on studying Xanthomonas diseases of crops. She became the first woman head of the Plant-Microorganism Interactions with the Environment unit and the first woman head of the Department of Ecology, Biodiversity and Continental Ecosystem Functioning, one of five scientific departments across all of IRD. 

As a plant pathologist, Verdier's passion is to improve food security through both basic and applied research on diseases that negatively impact crops that feed the global poor. She has over three decades of experience in the characterization and control of bacterial blight diseases of cassava and rice in West and Central Africa, Colombia, France, and the United States. Her commitment and passion for research and disseminating scientific knowledge resulted in several outpostings in Africa (the Congo, Mali, Burkina Faso) and Colombia (CIAT). Her contributions are diverse and impactful: she identified novel disease-causing bacterial strains by surveying the front lines of plant disease outbreaks and epidemics in developing countries, discovered new sources of disease-resistant germplasm against these pathogens, and innovated technologies to screen for effector genes and assess bacterial gene expression. Verdier was the first to discover effectors in X. axonopodis pv. manihotis, and her group cloned the first disease resistance gene from cassava. Verdier gained international recognition by pioneering diverse approaches to investigate Xanthomonas population structures and disease resistance, ranging from traditional plant pathology to comparative genomics. Her characterization of West African strains of X. oryzae pvs. oryzae and oryzicola, which differ widely from Asian strains, opened a new, impactful field of research. Verdier is a sought-after collaborator and has received many invitations to present her research at national and international meetings.

The research group Verdier leads at IRD-Montpellier, in association with numerous international partners, is a global scientific force. She continues to build strong and lasting collaborative networks among plant bacteriologists in Europe, Africa, and the Americas that include many international centers: CIAT, the International Rice Research Institute, AfricaRice, and others. She pushed to sequence the cassava genome and significantly contributed to the body of knowledge we now have on the biology of cassava bacterial pathogens. These have laid the groundwork for donor targeted cassava improvement projects for food security. She coordinated a French network that grew into an international network on Xanthomonas taxonomy and was a founding member of the Xanthomonas genomics organization. She now leads IRD in a partnership with African colleagues to collectively advance our phytobiomes knowledge to find solutions for plant health in these regions.

Verdier's legacy as an exceptional trainer and mentor bears expansion. Her students have become professors and research team leaders at multiple universities and international centers, including a vice president for research at a leading university in Colombia. She promotes young scientists from developing countries at every opportunity, helping them to find funding to attend scientific conferences and training workshops. 

Verdier is a valued citizen of the scientific community. She is a long-standing and active member of the French Society for Plant Pathology, APS, and IS-MPMI. She contributes regularly to the broader scientific community with planning and execution of symposia and workshops, editorial board service, and peer-reviews of manuscripts and grants. Because of her strong expertise and diplomatic skills, she is invited to serve in an advisory capacity or as a board member for several international organizations, including the European Economic Interest Grouping, iSITE MUSE (Montpellier University of Excellence), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the CGIAR (formerly the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), European Plant Science Organization (EPSO), and Agropolis International. 

Verdier has been awarded many honors in recognition of her talents and research advances, among them the prestigious Marie Curie Award presented by the European Commission, which recognizes excellence. The Marie Curie award supported her for a 3-year sabbatical at Colorado State University where she was the resident fellow at the school of global environmental sustainability. In 2014, she received the International Service Award from the American Phytopathological Society (APS). Most recently, 2016, Verdier was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (roughly translates to Knight of the Legion of Honour), the highest distinction given in recognition of services made for France in science.

In summary, Verdier is an extraordinary plant pathologist, with tremendous experience in international research and agriculture for development of growing economies. She is recognized as a scientific leader not only in France, but internationally, because of her promotion of plant pathology research programs in the developing world, particularly in West Africa and Colombia. The prestigious APS fellow award is a timely and appropriate recognition of her contributions to the understanding of Xanthomonas and other bacterial pathogens that are particularly destructive to crops important to food insecure regions of the world.

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