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About the Department

One of our assets is the ability of our department’s students and faculty to collaborate to provide students top-ranked educational and research opportunities in a collegial and friendly atmosphere. The following summarizes the history, mission, and programs of the department.

Why Study Plant Pathology:

One of the major goals of plant pathology is to support growth of healthy plants, whether as individual landscaping plants to beautify our living spaces, as fields of crop plants to sustain our food supply, or as regional populations of plants, such as forests, to maintain an inhabitable ecosystem. The value of plant pathology to human society, the importance of research on plant disease, and the need for training future plant pathologists is explained in the video "Plant Pathology: Taking You Further Than You Ever Imagined" from the American Phytopathological Society.

What Is Plant Pathology:

The discipline of plant pathology involves the study of all the biotic and abiotic causes of plant diseases, including pathogen biology and evolution; understanding infection processes, mechanisms of disease and host resistance; and identifying environmental and nutritional factors influencing plant health. Results of this research are applied to developing management strategies to ensure adequate food and fiber production and to better understand and stabilize natural ecosystems to maintain a healthy and sustainable environment.

History of Plant Pathology at Penn State:

Plant pathology has a long tradition at Penn State University as one of the first of seven undergraduate majors described in the College of Agriculture in 1908. In 1913 the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology was formed and the first graduate degree in plant pathology was awarded in 1915. Botany and plant pathology parted ways amicably in 1963 with the formation of the new Department of Plant Pathology with Dr. James Tammen as the first department head. Recently, the faculty elected to broaden the focus of the department to include environmental microbiology, a discipline closely associated with plant pathology concepts and encompassing the research disciplines of many faculty. The year 2013 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the department and its first year with the new name of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology.

Mission of the Department:

The mission of the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology is to engage in quality research, education, and outreach in plant pathology, mushroom science, and environmental microbiology with emphasis on the understanding of relationships among microbes, their hosts, and the environment, and on the management of diseases and other threats impacting agricultural and natural ecosystems, food safety, and human and environmental health. Our faculty is focused on professional priorities for innovative research, excellence in mentoring of students, and productivity in scholarship and outreach service to society. We strive for the highest commitments to creativity, honesty, and mutual respect.

Educational Programs:

Our educational programs prepare undergraduate and graduate students for diverse careers in academia, industry, and government. Our faculty is associated with teaching and advising for the undergraduate Plant Science major with options in Agroecology, Horticulture, and Plant Science, and advise undergraduate minor degree programs in Mushroom Science and Plant Pathology. Our Ph.D. program in Plant Pathology was highly ranked nationally among plant science programs by the National Research Council in 2010 and is one of the top graduate plant pathology programs in the country with an international reputation. We offer the M.S. degree and the Ph.D. degree in Plant Pathology based on research in a wide range of subdisciplines, as well as faculty mentoring for degree opportunities in interdisciplinary majors including Bioinformatics and Genomics, Ecology, Genetics, and Plant Biology.

Research Programs:

Research programs focus on a wide range of subdisciplines covering diverse areas of plant pathology, environmental microbiology, and microbial ecology. Many basic research and applied research programs are linked to translational programs bringing results to real world applications through Extension programming. Research programs are typically interdisciplinary with faculty from diverse disciplines in the Colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, and Science. Interdisciplinary research also is supported through joint faculty hires with the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, the Environment and Natural Resources Institute, and the College of Science. Outstanding world class research facilities associated with the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology include the Fusarium Research Center, the PPEM Growth Chamber Facility, the Mushroom Research Center, the Fruit Research and Extension Center, the Erie Grape Research Station, the Russell E. Larsen Agricultural Research Farm, the Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center, and the PPEM Plant Disease Clinic.

Extension Programs:

Faculty in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology contribute significantly to Extension and Outreach programming that translates research results into practical applications supporting agriculture, forestry, and horticulture industries in Pennsylvania and nationally. Applied research programs linked to industry are especially focused on problems involving mushrooms, potatoes, tree fruits, grapes, forest and landscaping trees, vegetable crops, ornamentals, and turf grass. The department has the first and one of the largest mushroom research programs in the world. Additional applied programming is related to mycotoxin production and building safety, fungal infections and human health, protein immunogen production, environmental monitoring, and air pollution.

If you are interested in additional information, do not hesitate to contact me. Additional research and extension program information can also be obtained through individual faculty research pages.

Carolee T. Bull, Department Head

The Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology (PPEM) seeks faculty, postdocs, and research technologists to help advance the mission of the department, college, and university. We are looking for enthusiastic researchers and technologists to join our team.