Dr Richard Cooper - BSPP President
Richard Cooper obtained his MSc and PhD from Imperial College London in the mid 70s. In 1984 he was awarded by the Royal College of Science the Huxley Memorial Medal for research in Natural Sciences. He obtained a lectureship at University of Bath and is a now a Reader there. This long run has been broken up by a sabbatical in 1981 at University of Missouri, working on Erwinia amylovora pathogenicity, as a Leverhulme visiting research professor to University of the West Indies, and by various overseas field work on diseases of certain tropical crop spp.
His interests centre on mechanisms of plant-pathogen interactions and involve both attack and defence, because the two are inextricably linked through co-evolution. In particular he has contributed much to our understanding of the role in disease of microbial polysaccharidases as cell wall-degrading enzymes, but currently is also working on bacterial polymers in host defence suppression. Xylem-invading “vascular pathogens” has been another key theme because of their unusual parasitic habit but also because of their significance to most crops worldwide. It was this group that led him into tropical diseases, initially through Fusarium oxysporum of oil palm, later with Verticillium of Theobroma cacao and also Xanthomonas of cassava (Manihot esculenta). Richard has gained much reward from making real advances, sometimes using simple approaches, in control of these major diseases; and that has provided a healthy counterbalance to the more blue skies research using model plant-pathogen systems such as Stagonospora-wheat, Verticillium-tomato, various pathogens-Arabidopsis. It is ironic though that study of one of the decidedly non-model systems (cacao wilt) led to the unexpected and exciting discovery of man’s first fungicide, elemental sulphur, already being used by plants as an induced phytoalexin in this and later in other diverse crop species.
Richard had been a member of BSPP for as long as he can remember and is an editor for Plant Pathology and Molecular Plant Pathology. He teaches plant pathology to year two undergraduates and plant-microorganism interaction to years 3 or 4. It remains a very popular subject here and he hopes the activities of BSPP and the research profiles of its members will keep it that way. One of his wishes is to increase public awareness of where our food comes from, the ongoing threat from pests and diseases and what is being done about it. This might allow more informed debate about issues such as genetic modification.