Botanist David Spooner has been named an “Area Senior Research Scientist of 2008” by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Spooner works in the ARS Vegetable Crops Research Unit in Madison and is also a professor in the UW-Madison Department of Horticulture.
Spooner and other award-winning senior and early-career scientists were recognized by ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling at an awards ceremony Feb. 10 in Washington. Each winner received a plaque, a cash award and additional research funding.
“Dr. Spooner has made outstanding contributions to the scientific community’s understanding of the genetic diversity and evolution of potatoes and their relatives,” Knipling said. “His work in collecting and evaluating germplasm has enabled breeders to develop improved varieties of potatoes for agricultural production and consumer benefit. His dedication, integrity and leadership have won him respect from his peers in the United States and throughout the world.”
Spooner demonstrated, for the first time, that cultivated potatoes originated from a single region in southern Peru. He also found that early introductions of the potato to Europe came from lowland Chile, challenging a long-held hypothesis that these introductions came solely from the high Andes. Spooner’s research has completely revised science’s understanding of the taxonomy and origin of the cultivated potato, rewritten the history of its spread outside of South America and has redefined the diversity and evolution of this important crop.
Spooner has traveled all over the world in efforts to help build an extensive germplasm collection for the U.S. potato gene bank. His numerous collections are now being used by researchers worldwide, including many species never before available as germplasm. The species are used to understand the taxonomy and breeding value of the collections, and are enhancing the collaborative research program of the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System through active collaborative exchanges with international scientists.
Spooner has served as a program organizer and executive committee member of the Botanical Society of America and as a professor with the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin. He is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Botanical Society of America Centennial Award in 2006, and is an honorary fellow of the Scottish Crop Research Institute.