The Schroth Faces of the Future Fund, established through a generous donation by Milt and Nancy Schroth, is designed to acknowledge the "up and comers" in various areas of plant science. The awardees have the opportunity to highlight their current work and speculate on the future directions of their discipline.
Milt and Nancy Schroth
Nancy and Milt were born in California, 1938 and 1933, respectively, and raised on citrus ranches. Nancy graduated as valedictorian from Simi Valley High School, received a B.A. degree from Stanford, and married Milt in 1959 while he was a graduate student in plant pathology, University of California-Berkeley (UCB). Nancy was an invaluable partner during his career, serving as advisor and support base, graciously providing hospitality and lodging for countless visitors, students, and post-doctorates. Milt grew up in Whittier, graduated from Pomona College with a B.A. degree in botany (1955), and was inducted into Pomona’s Athletic Hall of Fame (1974). After two years as an infantry lieutenant, he began graduate study under the tutelage of W. C. Snyder at UCB in 1957. He received his Ph.D. degree in 1961 and joined the Department of Plant Pathology.
Milt served UCB in many capacities. He was associate dean, College of Natural Resources; assistant director, statewide Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources; and later chair of the Department of Plant Pathology. In 1988, Milt instigated a science program with S. Van Gundy and J. Henson at Pushchino, Russia, that led to the founding of a new university. He has served on committees and panels of various governmental agencies, such as USDA, EPA, and the National Academy Science Board of Agriculture, the latter resulting in a book entitled Alternative Agriculture (1989). Upon his retirement in 1994, he received the Berkeley Citation, the highest award given to faculty members for “distinguished achievement and notable service to the University.” Other awards included the APS-administered AIBS-Campbell Award for vegetable research, 1964; Fellow of APS, 1975; California Horticultural Award, Association of Nurserymen, 1979 and 1980; and Distinguished Member, Sigma Xi, 1988.
Milt was a very productive member of APS and of other professional societies, serving on committees and editorial boards for Phytopathology and Applied and Environmental Microbiology; chair of the Taxonomy Subcommittee of the Bacteriology Committee, 1976–1980; chair and member of the Awards and Honors Committee; organizer/chair of the Committee for Developing Standards, 1980 deadline for “Approved List of Names” for bacterial plant pathogens. He was on the International Association of Microbiology Societies’ Pseudomonas Subcommittee of Committee on Systematics, 1974–1980. Milt was a frequent symposium speaker and gave lectures throughout the world, including a commencement speech at Pushchino, Russia. He was a keynote speaker at the 60th anniversary of the founding of APS and was appointed to the Foundation for Microbiological Lecturers, American Society for Microbiology, 1972.
Research with his graduate students and colleagues was Milt’s passion and resulted in more than 300 publications. He enjoyed controversial research areas and questioning dubious concepts, many of which are now well accepted or refuted because of his research. A particularly misguided concept in the 1960s was that saprophytic pseudomonads were essentially the same as plant-pathogenic species. This notion was dispelled by a paper in the Journal of Bacteriology. Milt was the first to isolate and prove that specific compounds in plant exudates directly caused the germination of resting spores, such as Fusarium chlamydospores. His group caused a major brouhaha in the flower industry and medical world after reporting the occurrence of the human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa in flowering plants and that it and Escherichia coli multiplied rapidly in lettuce during certain conditions and could be a source of nosocomial infections. Another mindset altered by Milt’s research was the notion that halo blight of bean was caused by two different bacterial races. He showed that innumerable strains existed in nature and that each plant cultivar selected-out particular strains, an important concept for plant breeders.
Milt had a great record in solving field problems. He discovered the bacterial causal agents of papaya die-back (St. Croix die-back), drippy nut of oaks, and vascular necrosis-collapse of sugar beet. The latter discovery led to the breeding of resistant cultivars. His group developed a monitoring system for fire blight that quantitatively related bacterial populations and climate to infection patterns. They first reported the field occurrence and nature of streptomycin-resistant strains of Erwinia amylovora and copper resistance in Xanthomonas arboricola pv. juglandis. Previously, streptomycin resistance was deemed unimportant since “metabolic cripples” were commonly found in media containing streptomycin. Milt found that the reason why apparently healthy olive trees suddenly developed knots after hail storms was because the bacterium was an internal resident and was spread by propagation of infested material. Milt’s group pioneered research on the many factors that affected population dynamics of “rhizobacteria,” a word they coined to describe root-associated bacteria. The group made many seminal discoveries of how specific bacteria affected pathogenic fungi and plant growth. Milt has five patents, one is the product Gallex that selectively penetrates and kills crown galls caused by Agrobacterium tumefaciens.
Few plant pathologists were as versatile as Milt, balancing administration with research ranging from very basic to applied, with broad interests that included fungi and both pathogenic and saprophytic bacteria. He is an internationally known expert on bacterial diseases, systematics, and biocontrol. His groups’ research has greatly influenced the direction of research in plant pathology, microbiology, and even clinical microbiology. He had many Ph.D. students and post-doctorates, now located throughout the world.