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.
Rodrigo Valverde was born in Limón, Costa Rica, in 1952. In 1977, he graduated from the University of Costa Rica in agronomy and then received an M.S. (1980), and Ph.D. (1983) in plant pathology from the University of Arkansas. After postdoctoral positions at the University of California, Riverside and University of California, Davis, he joined Ball PanAm Plant Company as their plant pathologist. In 1988, he joined the Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology at Louisiana State University (LSU), where he is currently a professor and teaches a graduate course in plant virology.
Valverde's research has been exceptional. He has focused on elucidating the etiology of many plant viral diseases, as well as the molecular and biological characterization of the causal viruses. With graduate students and visiting scientists, he has identified, characterized, and developed detection tools for viruses causing diseases in common bean, citrus, pepper, sweetpotato, tomatoes, and ornamentals. His discovery of novel bromoviruses and willingness to share with colleagues has helped to increase our knowledge of viral gene functions. One outstanding research contribution was the application and improvement of methods for detection and identification of viruses by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) analysis. Valverde validated, modified, and promoted dsRNA analysis as a practical tool, which has been used by many scientists to identify plant, fungal, insect, and oomycete viruses. Today, dsRNA analysis is widely used as a powerful tool to identify viruses and for selectively enriching samples for virus-derived dsRNAs that can be used in other more sensitive analyses, including RT-PCR and high-throughput sequencing. Valverde used dsRNA analysis to discover a novel satellite virus, which depended on Tobacco mosaic virus for its replication. This “molecular parasite" has been used as a model in groundbreaking research on virus structure and RNA-capsid protein interactions.
Valverde discovered and characterized the first virus infecting ferns. This was an important fundamental scientific contribution, which had immediate practical application. A disease of unknown etiology was devastating the leather-leaf fern industry in Central America. Valverde and a colleague used dsRNA analysis to discover and name a novel virus (Japanese holly fern mottle virus) as the causal agent. They showed the unique properties of this virus, which led to it being classified in a new family of plant viruses. Valverde also identified and developed detection tools for a new beetle-transmitted pepper virus, Pepper mild mosaic virus, affecting pepper crops in Central America. This virus causes very mild symptoms in most pepper genotypes; however, mixed infections with pepper potyviruses result in severe symptoms and low fruit yield.
Valverde has used dsRNA analysis for studying the biology and molecular biology of endornaviruses and is recognized as a world leader in understanding these apparently nonpathogenic plant viruses. Although endornaviruses have been reported to infect economically important crops such as common bean, cucurbits, pepper, and rice, little was known about their impact on crop growth and development. Valverde developed bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) near-isogenic lines and, with his students and collaborators, showed that endornaviruses have a mutualistic relationship with the plant and can provide beneficial effects. His current research goal is to further elucidate the nature of the symbiotic interactions between endornaviruses and their plant hosts.
Valverde has been very active professionally. He served APS as an associate editor of Plant Disease (2015, 2018) and as a reviewer for Plant Disease, Plant Health Progress, and Phytopathology. Since 2010, he has been chair of the APS/APHIS Widely Prevalent Virus Committee. This committee prepares updated lists of prevalent viruses in each state and interacts with state departments of agriculture when issues related to APHIS permits arise. The committee provides partial financial support to APS symposia, special sessions, and workshops dealing with plant virology. For the 2003 APS annual meeting, he was a Faculty Mentor in Diversity and Equality. He has also participated in a number of APS committees including Virology (1986–1990, 2016–2019), Tropical Plant Pathology (2004-2007), Youth Programs (1995–1997), and Membership and Local Arrangements for the APS Southern Division Meeting (1995). During the past 6 years, Valverde has also served as chair of the Endornaviridae Study Group for the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.
Valverde has dedicated his efforts to educating and training numerous students at many levels. He has mentored and trained local high-school students, LSU undergraduate students, international undergraduate and graduate students, and visiting scientists. Valverde has had a number of national and international research collaborations with researchers from many countries, including Costa Rica, Mexico, Israel, Japan, Peru, and Spain. His willingness to share and to develop research collaborations with colleagues within and outside his own department has resulted in numerous joint publications. He has edited 1 book, published 11 book chapters, and has published over 100 refereed articles. He has also published 17 popular articles in trade journals. Valverde has been recognized for his research and teaching accomplishments with a number of prestigious awards, including as a Fulbright scholar to conduct research and teaching in France (1995), Fellowships from the Spanish Ministry of Education (2002 and 2010), the LSU AgCenter's Tipton Team Research Award (2002), Fulbright Specialist Roster (2019), and the Erasmus+ STAFF Mobility Teaching Scholarship (2020).
Valverde has made many important and diverse contributions that have greatly expanded our understanding of how to detect and characterize novel viruses in a number of economically important plants. He has pioneered efforts to elucidate the role of endornaviruses and their impact on plant performance, and has made many excellent contributions to APS. Based on these achievements, Valverde is truly deserving of the APS Fellow award.