What Does a Plant Pathologist Do?

Christina Edwards

A plant pathologist is a scientist who studies the health of plants. This can include the details of plant diseases and parasites, along with their impacts on the surrounding environments. They may work in greenhouses, laboratories, and universities, as well as in the field. Several years of schooling is usually necessary to become a plant pathologist. Government, educational, and private institutions may employ plant pathologists for a number of roles.

Plant pathologists may work in biology, soil science, or agriculture.
Plant pathologists may work in biology, soil science, or agriculture.

Like humans, plants can have any number of health problems. They can get diseases or suffer from parasites. Plants can suffer from bacteria, fungi, or parasites. A plant pathologist studies the health of plants.

Plant pathologists study the health of plants and the impact of plant diseases on surrounding environments.
Plant pathologists study the health of plants and the impact of plant diseases on surrounding environments.

When a plant is found to have a disease or parasite, a plant pathologist may remove it from its environment for research purposes. She will often try to determine how it affects the plant and the surrounding environment. Depending on her area of expertise, she may also look for new ways to prevent or eradicate it.

A plant pathologist may study plant diseases in a laboratory.
A plant pathologist may study plant diseases in a laboratory.

Some plant diseases not only affect one or two plants, but they can also seriously effect the surrounding ecosystem. For instance, if a disease kills several plants in one area, this may cause a loss of food or homes for some animals. Those animals, in turn, may then have trouble adjusting, and their numbers may decrease drastically. This can drastically upset the balance of the delicate ecosystem in a particular area. Certain plant problems may also impact food crops, resulting in food shortages for the surrounding area.

Greenhouses and laboratories are two types of controlled environments in which a plant pathologist might work. These environments enable her to study the plants and their health problems with relative ease. She may also be required to perform field work, which means that she may travel to wild areas to collect or study specimens.

Usually, a four-year university degree is required to become a plant pathologist. Courses in biology are usually required. Other recommended science courses may include physics and chemistry. English, math, and computer courses are also generally recommended.

Some government agencies employ plant pathologists. In the United States, for instance, a plant pathologist could seek employment with the Department of Agriculture or the Forest Service. Universities may also hire plant pathologists for research and teaching positions.

A plant pathologist may also be able to secure employment with private companies. These companies may specialize in plant disease prevention or eradication. Some plant pathologists may also work for themselves as consultants.

Ringspot, which can cause circular lesions on plant leaves, is an example of a viral plant disease.
Ringspot, which can cause circular lesions on plant leaves, is an example of a viral plant disease.

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Discussion Comments

myharley

What kind of salary does a plant pathologist make? Since a degree is required for this job I assume this would pay a pretty decent wage. This is the type of job that my son would be interested in. Ever since he was little he has enjoyed growing things and is also interested in the science behind it.

John57

I am quite fascinated by what a plant pathologist does even though I have never been involved in this type of work professionally. I am the person my family and friends bring their sick and dying plants to hoping I can nurse them back to health.

I have always loved plants and taking care of them, and find this a challenge that I enjoy. Some diseases are very common and easy to treat while others are much harder to deal with. I think there will always be some kind of parasites or fungi that we have to deal with and I am glad people devote their work to this type of research.

bagley79

@honeybees-- It is interesting that you mention you have never given much thought to what a plant pathologist does. My niece is employed as a plant pathologist, and when people as her what she does, she gets a lot of blank looks.

A few people are curious about this and ask some questions, but most don't really know how to respond. She works for a university and does a lot of research on plant diseases and how to prevent them. I don't know how she ever got interested in this line of work, but when she starts talking about it, you can tell she is pretty passionate about it.

honeybees

I have never met anyone who is a plant pathologist and have never even given much thought to this type of work. After reading this article though, it makes me realize just how important this really is.

I live in an apartment so don't have a flower garden or outside plants that I need to take care of. The closest thing I have come to dealing with a plant disease is when the leaves on one of my houseplants got all sticky and the plant eventually died.

I never knew for sure what happened, I just threw the plant away and bought a new one. Now that I think about it, it would have been interesting to have done a little research to try and figure out what the problem was. I might have been able to treat the plant and somehow save it instead of just giving up on it.

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