Seed Health Testing Staff Make Committment to Excellence a Priority

ISU Seed Health Testing StaffThe sudden illness and passing of Iowa State University (ISU) Seed Health Testing Coordinator Lisa Shepherd Jenkins in the summer of 2015 necessitated an immediate and extraordinary effort be put forth by Seed Science Center faculty and staff. Seed Health Testing Lab staff and others quickly stepped in to volunteer their services and expertise, not only to keep Shepherd Jenkins’ lab running smoothly, but to ensure that it maintained its high level of quality service.

Staff Welcomes New Coordinator, Moves into Expanded Space

Today some new, but familiar faces make up the Seed Health Testing Lab staff. And, in addition to moving into an expanded lab space, they are making it their priority to continue Shepherd Jenkins’ commitment to excellence in seed health testing.

Former USDA Plant Pathologist and ISU Plant Pathology and Microbiology Assistant Professor Charles Block assumed the position of Seed Health Testing Coordinator in July of 2016. Block, who brings with him nearly 40 years of experience working with seedborne pathogens, and National Seed Health System (NSHS) Accreditation Coordinator Tracy Bruns head up the Seed Health Testing Lab staff which includes Lab Manager Kaitlin Metzger and Seed Analyst Jessica Blake. As Seed Health Testing Coordinator, Block will work closely with Bruns. He will oversee the daily operations of the lab, and he and Bruns will participate on national panels, boards, and committees that involve seed-borne diseases, testing methods, and phytosanitary regulations. They will conduct research in seed pathology and will evaluate and improve existing seedtesting protocols and provide instruction and training for seed industry personnel, scientists, and regulatory officials.

Because the ISU Seed Science Center is the Administrative Unit for the NSHS, as Co-director of the NSHS Administrative Unit, Block will standardize laboratory and field inspection methods across the U.S. He will carry out technical reviews of laboratory seed health testing methods and will work with national and international contacts to keep abreast of new and emerging diseases. Block, Bruns, and NSHS Co-director Gary Munkvold, will also act as liaisons with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Plant Protection and Quarantine program, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the American Seed Trade Association on international seed trade issues.

Plant pathologist Bruns served as Accreditation Coordinator and played an integral role as Interim Seed Health Testing Coordinator during the year following Shepherd Jenkins’ death. She will assist Block in performing scientific evaluations of seed samples. She will also oversee NSHS applications for accreditation and accreditation renewals, will evaluate accreditation materials, and will act as liaison for the Cucumber Green Mottle Mosaic Virus (CGMMV) pilot program.

Kaitlin Metzger and Jessica Blake will manage and conduct day-to-day sample setup and processing of seed health samples, respectively.

Block is enthusiastic about his new position and co-workers. “The staff is fantastic,” he said. “Everyone is good to work with and helpful. I thought I knew what to expect when I came here, but truthfully, things are going better than I expected. I am pleased for the opportunity to blend my expertise with these individuals to address the challenges ahead. Lisa Shepherd Jenkins created a seed testing program with a reputation for trustworthiness and excellence. We hope to build upon and to strengthen that reputation as we move forward."

The Seed Health Testing Laboratory at Iowa State is one of the most active phytosanitary seed testing programs in the country. It tests a large percentage of the seed lots exported from the U.S. and certifies other labs through the National Seed Health System (NSHS). The lab conducts sample diagnostics, pathogen identification, and interpretation of test results for more than 350 pathogens.

About Charles Block

Charles Block previously served as a plant pathologist for the United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station and as an Assistant Plant Pathology Professor at Iowa State. He holds a B.S. in chemistry from Briar Cliff University and a master’s and Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from Iowa State.

During his 37-year career at the Plant Introduction Station, Block coordinated the seed health testing program, handled phytosanitary issues, and provided support to curators on plant disease-related issues.