Title: Professor of Plant Pathology and EPI plant disease epidemiologist
College: Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Department: Plant Pathology
Research Interests: Epidemiology, microbial ecology; modeling of enteric and plant pathogens; farming systems; organic farming; emerging pathogens; citrus diseases; Salmonella; cultural control of plant diseases; biological control of plant diseases; biological suppression of root diseases
Curriculum vitae: PDF
Hobbies: Gardening, sailing, hiking, listening to classical music and reading
Dr. Ariena van Bruggen carries out fundamental and applied research on the health of ecosystems invaded by plant and human pathogens. A healthy ecosystem is characterized by a dynamically balanced and diverse community of organisms, stability and resilience after disturbances, minimal losses of nutrients and energy, and sporadic outbreaks of pests and diseases. Her work is premised on the idea that an ecosystem’s health status is largely determined by the extent of easily available carbon sources and mineral nutrients. This concept was developed based upon research on pathogens that reside in the human gut and their survival and spread from manure to soil and plants. Examples of these pathogens, such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella enterica, often make news headlines when outbreaks periodically occur.
Such outbreaks prompt researchers like van Bruggen to study the microbial pathways through which these pathogens move in farming ecosystems, in order to better target their control and protect the health of both people and valuable crops. For example, research has shown that populations of these pathogens can survive in soils and surface water, which has important implications for best management practices on farms. Specifically, studies have shown that pathogens survived longer in conventionally-managed soils than in organically-managed soils and also in eutrophied water compared to pristine water sources. Research demonstrated that the probability of a lettuce crop becoming contaminated was relatively higher in conventional farming systems with eutrophied soils, as compared to organic farming systems – though the overall risk remained low – when manure was used as a fertilizer in both systems. Van Bruggen plans to further explore pathways and mechanisms through which plant pathogens and microbes that feed on decaying matter survive and move through successive ecosystems.
In addition to ecosystem health research, van Bruggen also examines ecological processes and the ability of certain organisms in agroecosystems to disperse over time and across space. Her work contributes to understanding how certain diseases progress, by taking into account the response time for different developmental stages of a pathogen in relation to its site-specific dynamic environmental conditions (rather than average conditions). This was shown for a plant pathogen (Bremia lactucae) as well as for two human pathogens (E. coli O157:H7 and S. enterica). She plans to investigate this scale dependency, as well as the similarity of patterns at different scales, for the invasion of a pathogen into previously unoccupied space. On the applied side, van Bruggen’s group is studying the epidemiology and spread of emerging plant pathogens like the ones causing citrus huanglongbing, blackspot and laurel wilt and to develop risk assessment models for their spread. In van Bruggen’s laboratory, mathematical and statistical tools are combined with molecular tools for detecting pathogens and characterizing microbial communities. Van Bruggen also takes her research to the classroom, where she teaches a course on plant disease epidemiology.
Until recently, van Bruggen was the Chair of the Biological Farming Systems Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands where she coordinated the research and teaching activities of the scientific staff from 1999 to 2009. The focus of their research activities was on the detection of ecological principles and patterns underlying the functioning of healthy, durable farming systems and the design of such systems. Her own research group focused on microbial ecology, cycling of human gut pathogens in agroecosystems, biological suppression of root diseases, and the epidemiology and cultural and biological control of plant diseases. She taught various courses on organic agriculture and the sustainability of food chains, and chaired the Master of Organic Agriculture educational committee.
Emerging Pathogens Institute
University of Florida
P.O. Box 100009
Gainesville, Florida 32610-0009
Voice: (352) 273-9396
Fax: (352) 273-9399