Link to home

Joseph Kuć Student Travel Grant

This fund was established in honor of Joseph Kuć and was made possible by the generous contribution of Mrs. Karola Kuć. 

Joseph Kuć

Joseph Kuć, Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology at the University of Kentucky was born on November 24, 1929 in New York City. After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science in 1947, he went to Purdue University where he received the BS (1951), MS (1953) and PhD (1955) degrees in biochemistry. His doctoral research was mentored by Forrest Quackenbush and involved one of the earliest studies that demonstrated the active production of antimicrobial compounds by plants as part of their defense against disease.

Joe joined the faculty of Biochemistry at Purdue University as an assistant professor in 1955 and reached the rank of full professor in 1963. In 1974, he left Purdue University and joined the faculty as professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Kentucky and was named Distinguished Alumni Professor in 1978 and Research Professor in 1993. He retired from UK in 1995. While at Purdue, he spent a year at the Agricultural University at Wageningen on a Fulbright Travel Grant and a fellowship from the Netherlands Research Council. He also received a Fulbright fellowship to help start a biochemical research program at the University of Montevideo, Uruguay as well as fellowships from the Biological Institute in Sao Paulo Brazil and the Coffee Rust Institute in Lisbon, Portugal to advise and provide guidance on coffee rust research. At Kentucky, he was awarded a Senior Scientist Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 1980 and an additional award in 1990 to continue research in Germany.

Joe Kuć was internationally recognized and respected for his research on plant-pathogen interactions and the biochemical basis of plant defense. While at Purdue, he and his students did some of the very first work on the chemical induction of disease resistance using the apple—apple scab pathosystem. He also pioneered research on the role that constitutive and induced antimicrobial compounds play in defense against fungal pathogens in potato and carrot, and some of the earliest studies on the role of pathogen produced elicitors in triggering host defense responses. During the late 1960’s, some of his research attention shifted to the phenomenon of induced resistance in which prior infection of a plant with a pathogen or non-pathogen can activate host defenses that protect the plant against subsequent infection by the same or other pathogens. This phenomenon, known as "induced resistance" became another area for which he became internationally known. After moving to the University of Kentucky in 1974, he continued his research on the elicitation and suppression of antimicrobial terpenoids in potato and greatly expanded his research on induced resistance to disease in tobacco and cucumber—two plant systems that have been used as models for this disease resistance phenomenon. He authored or co-authored over 300 papers and was in great demand as a speaker at symposia, meetings and universities around the world.

Anyone who ever took a course from Dr. Kuć knew that had a tremendous passion for teaching and took this responsibility very seriously. He was widely respected as an excellent, enthusiastic and passionate instructor. His courses were challenging, but he was always willing to assist students to help them learn the material. For most of his Purdue career, he taught one or both semesters of the general biochemistry course for beginning graduate students and advanced undergraduates. At Kentucky, he developed and taught a one semester course in Plant Biochemistry. His commitment to teaching was also clearly seen in the excellent mentoring of graduate students (46 PhD and 22 MS) and 37 post-doctoral fellows and visiting scientists. These students and scientists came from 32 countries in addition to the US, and added a true international flavor to his program.

Joe Kuć received many awards during his career. These included the Campbell research Award from the American Phytopathological Society, the Thomas Poe Cooper Award for outstanding agricultural research at the University of Kentucky, and the William Sturgill Award for outstanding contributions to graduate education (also from UK). He received the medal for outstanding achievement in international plant protection at the 11th International Congress on Plant Protection and a certificate of merit from the Charles A. Lindbergh Fund. In 1995, he received the Monie A. Ferst Award from Sigma Xi and was also named to the order "Pour le Merit" for his contributions to plant immunization research. He is also a fellow of the American Phytopathological Society, and it is a testament to his excellence in mentoring that 5 of his former graduate students are also fellows of the Society.

His passion for science and research was matched only, if not surpassed, by his devotion to family. He married a fellow Purdue student, Ruth Shaffit, and they had three children. Ruth passed away in 1989. While on sabbatical in Germany in the early 1990’s, Joe met Karola Maywald, and they were married in 1991. Joe passed away on February 29, 2012 and is survived by Karola, three children, a step-daughter, and two grandchildren.