Professor Nick Talbot said he was "incredibly honoured and humbled" by the accolade

Exeter Biologist Elected Fellow of the Royal Society

Professor Nick Talbot of the College of Life and Environmental Sciences has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), the premier scientific accolade in the United Kingdom. 

Professor Talbot is distinguished for his role in determining the mechanisms by which fungi cause disease in plants.

His discoveries have led to new insights into fungal developmental biology, cellular differentiation and, in particular, how fungi have evolved the capacity to cause some of the most important crop diseases.

His research group are best known for their studies on rice blast disease, the most devastating disease of cultivated rice. Each year, this disease causes enormous losses to the global rice harvest.  Indeed, the losses attributed to rice blast disease are estimated to be enough rice to feed more than 60 million people.  Professor Talbot’s research, which has predominantly been carried out in a 20 year research career at Exeter, has been associated with understanding how specialized infection cells, called appressoria, bring about plant infection.

He has been a leader in the application of molecular genetics to study fungal pathogenesis, while also embracing cell biology, biochemistry and newly developed genomics approaches in a series of multi-disciplinary studies aimed at understanding the establishment of plant disease. His current work includes fundamental studies, funded by the European Research Council and BBSRC, into the molecular basis of appressorium function and the role of effector proteins that are involved in suppression of plant immunity, as well as more applied work, funded by BBSRC, DFID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation into developing new disease-resistant rice varieties for sub-Saharan Africa.

The Fellowship is the backbone of the Royal Society, made up of the most eminent scientists, engineers and technologists from the UK and the Commonwealth. Fellows are elected through a peer review process on the basis of excellence in science that culminates in a vote by existing Fellows.

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter, Sir Steve Smith, said: “Professor Talbot’s insightful research has shaped the modern understanding of the causes behind some of the most virulent crop diseases, which affect millions of people around the world. We are extremely proud of his achievements and this Fellowship is richly deserved. Being elected as an FRS is the pinnacle of academic achievement for scientists and it is therefore so fitting to see the person who has led the resurgence of science at Exeter being so honoured by his peers.”

Speaking about his election, Professor Talbot said “I am incredibly honoured and humbled to receive this recognition by the Royal Society.  I am also very proud that fungal biology, as a discipline, has been honoured in this way. Exeter has a longstanding history of fungal biology research from the pioneering contributions of Geoffrey Ainsworth, John Webster, Norman Todd, and Dennis Pitt, to the present day work of my colleagues Gero Steinberg, Ken Haynes, Sarah Gurr, Tom Richards, Steve Aves, Steve Bates and many others.  We have a fantastic group of biologists at Exeter interested in microbial diseases and the greatest discoveries are still ahead of us all”.

Professor Talbot’s research has previously been recognized by the Berkeley Award of the British Mycological Society (1999) The Society for Experimental Biology President’s Medal (2000), the Mycological Society of America John Karling Award Lecture (2008) and the Whetzel-Wescott-Dimock Award Lecture of Cornell University in 2011. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Biology (FSB) in 2010 and a member of EMBO in 2013.  Professor Talbot has published more than 120 research papers and been invited to give more than 200 presentations in 24 countries.

Professor Talbot also commented that “My election as a Fellow of the Royal Society would not have been possible without the extraordinary hard work and dedication of a very large number of PhD students and post-doctoral research fellows, including my long-term senior research fellow, Dr Michael J. Kershaw, who has supported my group so well during all of its time at Exeter”.

Professor Talbot is also Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer and leads the University of Exeter’s research strategy.  In this regard he welcomed the award “as recognition of the University’s commitment to scientific research at Exeter and the huge growth in the science base of the University since the Science Strategy was launched in 2008”. 

Date: 1 May 2014

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