New faculty profile: Emile Gluck-Thaler explores plant-microbe interactions via genetic and genomic approaches

Emile Gluck-Thaler joined the UW–Madison faculty in September 2023 as an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Montreal, Canada.

What is your educational/professional background, including your previous position?
I am an evolutionary biologist and mycologist. I received my PhD in plant pathology from The Ohio State University, where I researched how genes are organized in genomes and why this matters for fungal evolution. I moved to UW-Madison from the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, where I was a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow investigating constraints on fungal adaptation. 

How did you get into your field of research?
I was introduced to the wild world of fungi during my first job. Fresh out of high school, I began working at the Mycoboutique, the world’s only store whose mission is to promote fungal awareness and education. We sold anything and everything related to mushroom cuisine, cultivation and foraging, and I had many opportunities to meet, learn from and be inspired by people passionate about fungi.

What are the main goals of your current research and outreach programs?
The main goal of my research program is to understand how and why fungi cause disease on plants so we can better predict when disease outbreaks will occur. My lab does this by investigating how changes in genome structure impact plant-microbe interactions using molecular genetics, evolutionary genomics and big data.

What was your first visit to campus like?
I was so happy to see people ice fishing on the lake. I felt like I was back home in Canada!

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
A sense of wonder and excitement about the natural world.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
I think my work relates to the Wisconsin Idea because by improving our understanding of what makes a plant pathogen a pathogen, we will be better positioned to protect our food systems and predict when and where diseases will occur.

The pandemic forced us all to reconsider many things we took for granted. Is there something you’ve learned that has helped you through these challenging times, personally or professionally?
My experiences during the pandemic emphasized the importance of making quality time to take care of yourself and your friends and family.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
Some fungi have over 25,000 different sexes! Learning about fungal strategies for survival helps build a greater appreciation for the diversity of life on earth and all the different ways that life can find a way.

What are your hobbies and other interests?
I enjoy swimming and making ceramics.