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Joseph Kloepper

Professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
College of Agriculture

Joseph Kloepper, a professor of entomology and plant pathology at Auburn's College of Agriculture, conducts research on beneficial bacteria to promote plant growth and provide biological disease control. Biological materials developed by Kloepper are being commercialized by BASF Corp. in Ames, Iowa. This Spring, Kloepper received the Excellence in Innovation Award from the Auburn University chapter of the National Academy of Inventors.

1. What led you to a career in studying plant pathology?

I always liked plants, and when I was a sophomore at Colorado State University, I got a work-study job in a laboratory where they worked on diseases of potatoes. After several field trips to potato fields in the mountains of Colorado, I decided that plant pathology was for me.

2. Your work deals with "beneficial" bacteria. What does the word beneficial mean in the context of plant pathology?

Beneficial means that the bacteria we apply to seeds help the plant grow and help fight against plant pathogens. You could also say that the beneficial bacteria are biological controls of plant disease.

3. What led you to coining the acronym PGPR - plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria?

I coined the acronym after one of our weekly Friday beer sessions at UC Berkeley when fellow grad students and our professors said that we needed some short way to refer to the beneficial bacteria.

4. You received the Excellence in Innovation Award in April. What did receiving this award mean to you personally?

The award is given to researchers whose work leads to patents and financial support from companies interested in developing the research. At many universities, applied research supported by industry is not considered to be as important or significant to basic research. So, receiving this award was an acknowledgment to me that our university understands and encourages both applied and basic research.

5. What advice do you have for students who are interested in pursuing a career in plant pathology?

Visit the website of APS (the American Phytopathological Society) and scroll around to learn more about the field, including career options. Enroll in the introductory plant pathology course here at Auburn, and stop by and visit the research plant pathology faculty on the second floor of the Rouse Life Sciences Building.

June 23, 2014