Rebecca Grumet: A lifelong love for research & discovery

Rebecca Grumet, professor in the MSU Department of Horticulture, works in genetics, genomics and biotechnology involved with a group of food crops called cucurbits.

January 10, 2018

Rebecca Grumet

Rebecca Grumet, professor in the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Horticulture, works on the genetics, genomics and biotechnology involved with a group of food crops called cucurbits (cucumbers, melons, watermelons, squashes, pumpkins). Much of her work addresses the destructive disease Phytophthora capsici.

The disease is hard to detect at first and poses a threat to Michigan’s thriving pickle industry.

“When we’re talking about cucumbers, this disease primarily infects fruit, not the leaves or the vines,” she said. “Farmers could look at a field and it could look beautiful, but the fruit that would be underneath the leaves, in contact with the soil could be heavily infected.

“Diseases are one of the primary limiting factors for agricultural production. This is true for many crops, and is certainly the case for cucurbit crops. Farmers can experience tremendous losses, both in outright yield, and in product quality.

“When talking with growers of these crops, diseases are consistently identified as a major production constraint,” said Grumet.

In addition to decreased yields, plant diseases cause increased costs for farming, including expenses for pesticides (fungicides) and the time and labor needed to apply pesticides or to implement other disease control practices. Grumet said plant breeding for disease and pest resistance is the most cost effective and environmentally desirable solution to these challenges.

Name: Rebecca Grumet

Title: Professor, Department of Horticulture

Joined MSU: July 1987

Education: B.S., Cornell University, 1978 M.S., Michigan State University, 1980 Ph.D., Michigan State University, 1985 Postdoctoral Fellowship, Duke University, 1985–1987

Hometown: Syracuse, New York

Muse (person who has most influenced and/or inspired me): My first thought is Norman Borlaug. I grew up in a time when the environmental movement was gaining great momentum and there were concerns about upcoming world food shortages. I wanted to be part of the solution, and then I learned about Norman Borlaug and his amazing contributions to alleviating world hunger. Perhaps he is more of a hero than a muse to me.

On a more proximal level, there are so many people throughout my life who have influenced and inspired me: high school earth science and biology teachers, undergraduate research advisers, graduate school professors and a host of MSU faculty and administrators who have opened new vistas of learning, set examples, offered guidance and provided so many exciting opportunities over the years.

On my bucket list: The opportunity to travel with my husband! We have both traveled extensively over the years for work. I look forward to a chance to share more of our trips together.

Favorite vacation: My favorite vacation is any vacation filled with beautiful scenery, opportunity to hike and to be with the people I love. There have been many!

On a Saturday afternoon, you’ll likely find me: Working in the yard or cooking to share with family and friends.

Best part of my job is: The continual opportunity to learn, grow and work with wonderful people. There are so many opportunities at every turn with the chance to do exciting and meaningful work in the laboratory, classroom, within MSU or with colleagues nationally and internationally.

If I wasn’t a researcher I’d be: Being a researcher was always my dream career (even since high school). I think I could be happy doing other things, but there is nothing else that I ever truly considered.

Something many people don’t know about me is: At age 14, I spent eight weeks in a camp in the Adirondacks without running water or electricity (only an outhouse, wood burning stove). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to think it had a profound influence on me and my view of what we really “need” in life.

I went into this field of study because: I love biology, genetics, physiology and the opportunity to connect them to something meaningful. Once I took genetics, a light bulb went off and life made sense to me in a completely new way.

This article was published in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. To view past issues of Futures, visit www.futuresmagazine.msu.edu. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.

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