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2023 Syngenta Award: Lina Quesada​

Lina Quesada, native of Bogota, Colombia, obtained B.Sc. degrees in Microbiology and Biology at Universidad de Los Andes and a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from Michigan State University. Following a NIFA Postdoctoral Fellowship, she was appointed an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University (NC State) in 2013. Her excellence was recognized numerous times already in her career when she received the APS Hewitt Award in 2017, received early tenure and promotion to Associate Professor in 2018, was named a NC State University Faculty Scholar in 2019, and more recently received early promotion to Full Professor in 2022. Dr. Quesada was broadly trained in molecular plant pathology, population genetics, genomics, metabolomics, field research, and extension, however, her true passion has always been translating research findings into agricultural solutions for farmers. At NC State, she masterfully blends basic and applied research into a vegetable pathology translational program that addresses grower needs. Her program impacts were recently recognized by NC producers through their establishment of a Vegetable Pathology Program Support Endowment and by her college's decision to relocate her program to the state-of-the-art NC Plant Sciences Building.

Dr. Quesada has made major contributions to improving our understanding of the biology of oomycete pathogens causing downy mildew diseases that have resulted in significant advances in their detection and management. By leveraging genomics, population genetics, and field experiments, Dr. Quesada's program described host-adapted clades in Pseudoperonospora cubensis, developed a clade-specific biosurveillance system, and determined that host-adapted clades present seasonality and differences in fungicide sensitivity. Collectively, these findings described in a series of papers published in the last two years, have revolutionized cucurbit downy mildew management and resulted in significant savings for cucurbit growers. Dr. Quesada published the first genome sequence of the hop downy mildew Pseudoperonospora humuli, developed diagnostic resources to use in clean-seed programs and biosurveillance efforts, and characterized the core effector repertoire of the species for expression analyses and pathogen-assisted breeding. Her significant contributions have not only positioned her as a world authority in downy mildew pathogens, but have resulted in patents, been featured as Editor's Pick in APS journals and in public media such as the National Public Radio, Forbes Magazine, and Vegetable Growers News.

Dr. Quesada is a world expert in sweetpotato pathology. In 2017, the European Union reduced the allowed residue levels for thiabendazole in imported sweetpotatoes effectively eliminating this fungicide as a control option for black rot. Dr. Quesada collaborated with stakeholders, chemical companies, and regulatory agencies in the US and overseas to secure the data needed to request a revision of residue levels for thiabendazole. Thanks to her efforts, in 2021, Mertect (thiabendazole) received a Section 3 label for postharvest use in sweetpotato and the residue level for thiabendazole was officially increased in the EU, returning a much-needed disease control tool to the US sweetpotato industry. Similarly, as the invasive guava root knot nematode Meloidogyne enterolobii became more widespread in NC, Dr. Quesada immediately started research efforts to quickly identify effective control methods to prevent losses. Her program developed the recommendations that are now the gold standard for managing M. enterolobii in sweetpotato. Dr. Quesada also published multiple papers to investigate the fundamental biology of important sweetpotato pathogens such as Ceratocystis fimbriata, Rhizopus stolonifer, Fusarium solani, Fusarium oxysporum, and Meloidogyne spp., with contributions ranging from applied research to investigating genetic mechanisms of host resistance in sweetpotato. Dr. Quesada's collaborative nature and reputation as an excellent researcher and responsive extension specialist have resulted in an impressive $46 million in awards as a PI or Co-PI on diverse federal and international grants. Notable awards include a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to advance sweetpotato production in Africa, an AFRI-USDA grant to improve management of downy mildew pathogens, three SCRI-USDA-CAP grants to address disease resistance and nematode management strategies in vegetable crops, and two FAS-TASC grants to overcome disease-related sweetpotato trade barriers. Her stakeholders hold her in the highest regard.

During her nine years as faculty at NC State, Dr. Quesada has published 80 peer-reviewed research journal articles, 8 book chapters, and 248 extension publications including, Plant Disease Management Reports, production guides, pest alerts, and disease fact sheets in English and Spanish, reaching underrepresented farming communities. She is a high-demand speaker with over 157 invitations to present at scientific and extension venues internationally. Dr. Quesada is a leader at the university and the profession. She has served as Chair of the APS Leadership Institute, National Sweetpotato Collaborators Group, and the International Pickling Cucumber Improvement Committee. She has organized international conferences such as the Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network Annual Meeting, the International Soilborne Oomycete Conference, and the 6th International Oomycete Workshop. Dr. Quesada actively participates in committees at the department, college, university, and APS levels. She also serves in federal grant panels for USDA and NSF, international grant panels for BARD, and as Senior Editor in the APS journals Plant Health Progress and PhytoFrontiers.

Mentoring and training the next generation of scientists for diverse career paths is very much at the forefront of Dr. Quesada's program. At NC State, she has mentored 48 undergraduate researchers, six visiting scholars, eight staff, seven MSc students, five PhD students, and six post-doctoral researchers. She has also served on 20 graduate student committees. Her mentees have secured desirable positions as university faculty, in government agencies, and in private industry due to their well-rounded training. Dr. Quesada is also a trusted mentor to fellow faculty at NC State and beyond and currently serves in six faculty mentoring committees.

Dr. Lina Quesada is by all metrics a productive and gifted early career plant pathologist whose research and extension programs continue to make significant contributions to science, society, and agriculture.