Wingfield: Biosecurity depends on collaborations

“Coming to the University of Minnesota was the best decision I ever made in my life,” declared Michael Wingfield '83 upon receiving the 2016 University of Minnesota Distinguished Leadership Award for Internationals during a ceremony, presentation, and reception event held June 2. His presentation focused on “Global Tree Health: Can We Win the Battle Against Invasive Pests and Diseases,” during which he underscored how “people and trees are similar in how they respond to disease.” He emphasized that future biosecurity depends upon engaging and collaborating with politicians and social scientists more than ever.

The prestigious award, administered by Global Programs and Strategy Alliance in partnership with the University of Minnesota Alumni Association, recognizes "unusual distinction as professionals in their careers within institutions or in public service and have either demonstrated sustained outstanding achievement and leadership, or demonstrated promise of such on a local, national, or international level." Wingfield received the award for, among many outstanding accomplishments, his decades-long successful career in forest pathology and biotechnology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and his launching and leadership of the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI).

Wingfield is a worldwide leader in tree disease biology whose thirty-year career has been dedicated to researching tree pests and pathogens.  Wingfield attended the University of Minnesota as a Ph.D. student in Plant Pathology from 1980 to 1983. Upon returning to his native South Africa, Wingfield obtained a position as a senior agricultural researcher at the Plant Protection Research Institute, before serving as a researcher and professor at the University of the Free State and a Mondio Professor of Forest Pathology at the University of Pretoria. In 1990, Wingfield established the Tree Protection Co-operative Programme (TPCP) with the goal of minimizing the impact of pest and pathogens threatening South Africa’s commercial forestry. In the years since, TPCP has grown to be the world’s largest tree health project and led to the 1998 establishment of the University of Pretoria’s Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI), where Wingfield served as founding-director. Today, Wingfield continues to serve as professor and director of FABI at the University of Pretoria.

Among Wingfield’s many distinguished accomplishments include discovering important pathogens of trees in plantations, serving as mentor to 140 Ph.D. and M.S. students, writing more than 800 research publications, delivering nearly 300 keynote speeches around the world, and receiving the African Union’s 2013 Kwame Nkurumah Science Award.

In naming Michael Wingfield as a recipient of the Distinguished Leadership Award for Internationals, the selection committee cited the depth and breadth of his research in the field of tree pests and pathogens. As one recommender elaborates, “[Wingfield] has been amongst the most productive scientist of his generation, and possibly ever in the field of forest health. He is an extraordinary scholar, but also an extraordinary leader, mentor, and friend to many scientists around the world.”