Brett Tyler, research professor in the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, received the university's 2009 Alumni Award for Excellence in Research.

Sponsored by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the Alumni Award for Excellence in Research is presented annually to as many as two Virginia Tech faculty members who have made outstanding research contributions. Alumni, students, faculty, and staff may nominate candidates. Each recipient is awarded $2,000.

For 20 years, Tyler has been a leader in the study of a unique group of plant pathogens called oomycetes that cause devastating diseases in a variety of plants of importance to agriculture, forestry, and natural ecosystems. After he joined Virginia Tech in 2002, he led this research into the area of genomics and has received 15 extramural research grants totaling more than $20 million.

At Virginia Tech, Tyler and his colleagues completed a series of landmark studies showing how the genomes of the oomycete pathogens Phytophthora sojae and Phytophthora ramorum rapidly adapt to overcome the defense of their plant hosts. These pathogens, for example, have caused at least $1 billion in damage annually to the U.S. soybean crop and have devastated California’s coastal oak ecosystems. Tyler’s research team also identified a unique family of protein toxins called “effectors” that have the ability to enter the cells of their host to reprogram them.

Throughout his career, Tyler has authored or co-authored 85 publications. Since his arrival to Virginia Tech, he has received 72 invitations to lecture on his work, including the prestigious 2006 National Science Foundation Biological Sciences Distinguished Lectureship and the 2008 American Phytopathological Society Centennial Lectureship. He was awarded a Fulbright lectureship in Egypt and the Willie Commelin Scholten Foundation Visiting Chair of Phytopathology lectureship in the Netherlands.

Last year, the American Phytopathological Society awarded Tyler its highest annual award in molecular plant pathology, the Noel T. Keen Award for Research Excellence in Molecular Plant Pathology.

A native of Melbourne, Australia, Tyler earned his bachelor’s degree in genetics, biochemistry, and mathematics from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. He then completed his doctorate in molecular biology from the University of Melbourne, Australia.

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