Prof. Brenda Wingfield receives the Christiaan Hendrik Persoon medal 2015-01-27
Prof. Brenda Wingfield was awarded the Christiaan Hendrik Persoon Medal during the awards ceremony at the 49th biennial congress of the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology (SASPP) in Bloemfontein on January 22nd. This gold medal is the highest award that the SASPP can make to one of its members. The award honours the famous mycologist Christiaan Hendrik Persoon (1761-1836) who was born in the Cape Province of South Africa before being sent to Europe at the age of 13 to pursue his education and later to be recognised as one of the 'fathers of mycology.' The Persoon medal was first presented to the globally recognised epidemiologist and member of the SASPP, Dr. J.E. van der Plank in 1979. Subsequent recipients include Prof. W.F.O. Marasas (1987), Prof. M.J. Wingfield (1999), Prof. P.W. Crous (2005), and Prof. Z.A. Pretorius (2009). Brenda Wingfield received the award for her outstanding contributions to Plant Pathology. This is only the sixth time that the award has been made in 53 years and Brenda Wingfield is the first female member of the SASPP to receive this honour.
In receiving the Persoon Medal, Brenda Wingfield is recognized as a plant pathologist of substantial international standing, having been an active member of the SASPP (an affilate of the International Society for Plant Pathology) for two decades. Importantly, in this time she contributed substantially to plant pathology in South Africa and also globally. Perhaps the clearest view of these contributions are seen via the fact that she has been a supervisor of some of South Africa’s most active and best recognized scientists working with plant pathogens, and numerous of these, including a past President of the SASPP, are now working in countries beyond the borders of South Africa.
Brenda Wingfield is the Acting Dean in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and concurrently a Professor in the Department of Genetics at the University of Pretoria. Her research during the course of the past 20 years has focused on the global movement and evolution of fungal pathogens and particularly those on trees. She has been deeply involved in developing tools to study the phylogenetic relationships between tree pathogens. In recent years, she has expanded her research focus to study fungi at the population level. In so doing, she has developed the molecular tools to make this possible. Her research group is one of the most active internationally using DNA based markers to examine the distribution and population dynamics of tree pathogens. She has supervised and continues to advise large numbers of postgraduate students working on plant pathogens and together with her students, has produced a very substantial body of research on plant pathogens in some of the best known journals dealing with this topic. The impact of this work can be judged in various ways including for example citation metrics. In this regard, Thomson ISI lists 373 of her publications with an Hirsch (H) factor of 45 (an average citation rate of 15.2 per paper) and the Google Scholar equivalent is H=45.
Brenda is well recognized nationally and internationally for her excellent science and for the mentorship of students. She has received the important excellent Achiever Award of the University of Pretoria for 10 consecutive years. She is one of South Africa’s few scientists holding an “A” (the highest) rating from the National Research Foundation of South Africa and enjoys significant national and international recognition for her work in plant pathology. She has received numerous significant awards for research including the 'Women in Water Sanitation and Forestry' award in 2007, the Department of Science and Technology (South Africa) Distinguished Women in Science Award in 2008, and in 2014 she received the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF, South Africa) award for mentorship and human capacity development. Brenda was the Programme Leader for one of South Africa’s first seven Centres of Excellence identified by the Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation, the Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology [CTHB]) in South Africa for the first five years of its existence and essentially won the bid to establish this CoE, which she also led through its developmental stages.
Molecular techniques have become vital tools in fungal taxonomy and phylogeny. Brenda Wingfield’s research group published some of the first DNA phylogenies of fungal tree pathogens anywhere in the world. She has had tremendous successes in the development of these molecular techniques for a wide variety of tree pathogens, and has gained international recognition for this work. She reviews publications for most of the journals in her field and has been an editor for the journal Mycological Research (now Fungal Biology) for many years. She effectively introduced DNA-based techniques for the study of fungi to the plant pathology community of South Africa, beginning with a keynote address to promote the topic to the SASPP in 1992 – 'Future Prospects for the molecular characterization of Plant Pathogenic fungi.' The consequences are well illustrated in the scientific literature and in the work of her past students (ie Dr Conrad Schoch, Dr Karin Jacobs, Prof. Bernard Slippers, etc).
Brenda has provided an example of what is possible for women in science to achieve scientifically. Her research programme is internationally recognized and the post graduate students who have graduated from her programme have shown themselves able to compete successfully at a global level. Some of these graduates are leading scientists in their own right nationally and internationally. She has been a PhD supervisor / co-supervisor to more than ten women, all of whom are now successful scientists in their own right. She is currently involved in the PhD studies of numerous other female PhD students. In addition she has advised many female Masters studies and is currently part of the mentorship team of numerous MSc student programmes. Such role models are essential in terms of promoting scientific excellence and plant pathology in Africa but also globally.
Brenda is one of the Founder Members of FABI and she has played a very active role in building the reputation and global footprint of the institute since it was founded in 1998. Her receipt of the Christiaan Hendrik Persoon Medal is not only an apt recognition of her scientific accomplishments, but it is a great honour for FABI and the University of Pretoria.