Diseases Chat with Tim Murray

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Episode Transcription

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Hello, and welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. We have weekly discussions with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production.


Drew Lyon: My guest today is Tim Murray. Tim is a professor and extension plant pathologist who’s been at WSU now since 1983. Prior to joining the extension Small Grains team in 2013, he taught introductory plant pathology. His research program focuses on integrated control of wheat diseases, especially eyespot, cephalosporium stripe, speckled snow mold, soilborne wheat mosaic, wheat streak mosaic, and other diseases as needed. That’s quite a list, there, Tim. Hello, and welcome to the show.

Tim Murray: Hi, Drew.

Drew Lyon: What is the main focus of your research program?

Tim Murray: Well, as you said in the introduction, I work on a variety of different diseases, but the bottom line is I work to try to reduce the impact that these diseases have on the wheat industry. And, my program, in the beginning, we focused a lot of our effort on fungicide control. When I first started in my position, there were about a million acres of winter wheat being sprayed every year to try to control eyespot disease. And, so initially we focused on fungicides and which fungicides worked best. And then we had a problem with fungicide resistance that appeared in the fungus that causes eyespot. And, but in the background there we were working also on disease resistance because we felt like that was the best long-term sustainable form of control. And, the wheat breeders had been working it, and Bob Allen released the first two varieties back in 1988. And then after that, we started working on disease resistance looking for new sources of resistance, trying to understand genetics of resistance to make the breeding easier. And, so that’s been a big part of my program over the years. But we’ve worked on cultural controls, seeding date, liming of soil, soil acidity which is becoming a big concern again for things like cephalosporium stripe. My mentor was Bill Breel, and he was kind of Mr. Snow Mold. Not just in Washington state but really around the world. And, after I’d been here for about fifteen years, there was concerns about snow mold becoming a problem, so I started working with the breeder at the time, Steve Jones, on snow mold diseases. And, we’re still working on snow molds a little bit now with Arron Carter. And then you mentioned a couple other diseases in there, and these are things that have appeared over the years. Things like soilborne wheat mosaic virus. It’s relatively new. Newly discovered in the area, and so we work to try to evaluate our varieties for resistance and get some management information out for the growers and so forth. So my program has been pretty broad over the years, but I guess sort of the enduring focus has been to try to come up with real practical solutions for these diseases for growers.

Drew Lyon: About five years ago, about the same time I was arriving here at WSU, you switched from a teaching appointment to an extension appointment. And, you’re a member of the Dryland Cropping Systems team that we both work on. What was the reason for the switch?

Tim Murray: Well, it was again it was grower-driven. We had an extension pathologist here for many years. When I got here, Otis Malloy was our extension pathologist. And he retired. And I am trying to think when that was. It was so long ago. But he had been retired about twenty years, and the position had not been refilled because of budget problems and things like that. In 2010, we had a particularly severe outbreak of stripe rust. Very, one of the worst epidemics that we’d had in the last thirty years, and the growers really felt like they needed someone who was focused on extension disease problems for wheat. And, because of that outbreak, and so, they approached the Dean, and they said we really need somebody to do this. Well, again, the budget being what it was, there wasn’t room there to bring a new person in. And, and so the department chair, my department chair at the time, approached me about whether I would do that or not. And of course, I worked with growers throughout my career but not formally in extension capacity. And, so I decided after thirty years of teaching introductory plant pathology that it was maybe time for a switch. And, so I switched over to extension. And, people ask me about that and I said, you know it’s teaching, it’s just a different audience. And, so I get a lot of pleasure out of interacting with grower groups, and, you know, helping educate them about the disease problems they face and what they can do to try to resolve those.

Drew Lyon: I know I’m awful happy that you made the switch. So, maybe the teaching students aren’t, but I am. What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your job?

Tim Murray: Well, I think, again I think the scientist part of me, and that’s a big part of my program, the scientist part of me, it’s the discovery. It’s new knowledge that we’re able to uncover. And, again I have a pretty wide-ranging program, and kind of reflects my interests generally in science pretty broad. That’s one part of it. But the other part of it, too, is, as I said earlier, is coming up with these practical solutions to problems for growers, to help them stay profitable, or as profitable as they can be, and really, to help out the industry. I was hired into a position, a commodity, you know, focused position, and I’m a big believer in our land-grant mission. And ultimately, that’s what we try to do is solve problems for our stakeholders.

Drew Lyon: So, over your career, what has changed about research and even the wheat industry over that time?

Tim Murray: Well, I think, from my perspective anyway, you know in one word, it would be technology. Technology has changed dramatically, and in particular when I think about research that we do, there’s so much more emphasis now on molecular tools. And, when I was in graduate school I was kind of on the edge of that wave, but the wave was behind me. I wasn’t on it, it was coming along. And so after I’d been in the job, you know, five or eight years or so, that’s when we really started to see the molecular aspects pick up. And the tools, and initially they were very basic research, but now they’ve come in to the point where there are things that we use every day in the lab. If you think about diagnostics, we have molecular tools that allow us to determine the cause of a problem in hours instead of days or weeks or months before. And when we think about the breeding part of wheat pathology, which is that’s a lot of what we do is we work with breeders to try to develop resistant varieties, so much of it now is about molecular markers, and speeding up that breeding process and mapping to understand the genetics of disease resistance. I mean, these were things that we just didn’t do, or weren’t able to do when I first got started. And so, you know, we’re able to answer questions now that we couldn’t answer thirty years ago because of the tools. And you layer on to that then computing technology, and we see this coming in to agriculture in the form of precision agriculture where computers, you know, the computing power that we have in our average smartphone now is far more powerful than the first desktop computer that I had that we first learned to work with Word processors and so forth. So, you know, technology in many different forms is really impacted the way we do science, the way we do our extension work, and also the way growers are farming today.

Drew Lyon: So if our listeners want to learn more about some of the work you do, is there a place they can go to see that?

Tim Murray: Sure. I’m listed on our extension Small Grains website. I curate the section on disease information. My contact information is on there. I’m in the Department of Plant Pathology. And, if you go to the WSU Department of Plant Pathology website and look under the faculty listing, you’ll find me there, and I have a website for my own activities that I try to keep up-to-date. And, so, if there is something there someone’s interested in they should be able to find it, and if not they can always contact me. They can email me, they can call me on the telephone, and I should mention too that I do have a Twitter account. So, I’m @wsuwheatdoc.

Drew Lyon: Very, very modern of you. I haven’t quite made that switch yet. So we’ll put those, that information up on our podcast notes, session notes. And, if our listeners are interested they can go visit that and find out how to get to see you. Thanks a lot for your time, Tim.

Tim Murray: Thank you, Drew. It’s been fun.

Drew Lyon: Thanks for listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you have questions for us, that you’d like to hear addressed on future episodes, please email me at drew.lyon@wsu.edu. You can find us online at smallgrains.wsu.edu. You can also find us on social media on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. Subscribe to this show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications in the College of Agricultural Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon; we’ll see you next week.