Expert on canola and wheat diseases awarded Killam Annual Professorship

Stephen Strelkov’s achievements include identifying new strains of the clubroot pathogen that are capable of causing disease on resistant canola varieties.
Stephen Strelkov, an authority in plant pathology and the significant threat of clubroot disease in canola crops, has received a 2016 Killam Annual Professorship.

“This award provides nice recognition for our program, serving to highlight some of our achievements and contributions to understanding and managing important plant diseases,” said Strelkov, a professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science.

Strelkov’s achievements include identifying new strains of the clubroot pathogen that are capable of causing disease on resistant canola varieties, and developing new methods to characterize and classify these strains for use in resistance breeding activities.

He and his team have also increased understanding of how the clubroot pathogen spreads. For example, by analyzing DNA extracted from dust samples, they showed for the first time that clubroot spores can be quantified and measured in windborne dust. That’s significant because it demonstrates that windborne dissemination of clubroot can occur, in addition to other mechanisms of dispersal such as movement of infested soil on farm machinery.

The pathogen spores can stay dormant in the soil for up to 20 years, waiting for enough moisture and the presence of host roots to germinate and cause infection. This makes management of the disease challenging, highlighting the importance of long-term strategies to understand and control this pathogen.

In addition to his work on clubroot, Strelkov also works on various other plant diseases including tan spot of wheat. His research on tan spot is focused on understanding the molecular basis of fungal virulence.

“Over the next year, we will continue to work on field crop pathology, with a particular emphasis on clubfoot of canola and tan spot, a major disease of wheat,” he said.

The Killam awards are granted to faculty members based on the quality of their scholarly activities. They were established in 1991 as part of a generous bequest by Izaak and Dorothy Killam that includes scholarships, fellowships and professorships at the University of Alberta and other Canadian universities and institutions. The awards are meant to encourage advanced study and increased scientific achievement.

The professorship award for Strelkov and six other UAlberta researchers will be formally announced at the university’s Killam Day luncheon in Lister Hall on Oct. 28.