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WSU Plant Pathologist James Cook Wins Prestigious Wolf Prize

Published on February 15, 2011

PULLMAN, Wash. — James Cook, former dean of the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and emeritus professor of plant pathology and crop and soil sciences, will be awarded the Wolf Prize for Agriculture. The Wolf Prizes, awarded annually by the Israel-based Wolf Foundation, are given in agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics and the arts, in order to promote science and the arts for the benefit of humankind.

R. James Cook
R. James Cook. Click image to download high-resolution version.

Cook will share the $100,000, 2011 prize with Harris A. Lewin of the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Laureates receive their awards from the President of the State of Israel. The prize presentation takes place at a special ceremony at the Knesset Building (Israel´s Parliament), in Jerusalem on May 23.

WSU President Elson S. Floyd said, “This is truly an outstanding and well-deserved honor. Jim Cook is, without question, one of the finest research scientists in the history of our university, and this honor shows once again that he is held in equally high esteem by his peers around the world. I can’t imagine a better choice for this award and I extend my heartiest congratulations to Dr. Cook.”

Cook said he received a phone call early in the morning informing him that he had won the prize. “My first reaction was one of being overwhelmed,” he said. “I was hollering with joy and woke my wife up. It doesn’t get much better than this. To be in the company of people who have won this prize in the past is fantastic.

“All the work that led to this was done at WSU. I’m deeply grateful to my many research colleagues who helped me do the best science I could. Our goal was always to work at the cutting edge but then to apply that research to the real world, so I worked with a lot of great farmers, too, who were our partners in science.”

For 33 of his 40 years at WSU, Cook was a U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service scientist. In 1998, the Washington Wheat Commission made a $1.5 million gift to the WSU Foundation to establish the R. James Cook Endowed Chair in Wheat Research, with Cook as the first holder of the chair.

“In the 33 years of its existence, the Wolf Prize has brought great honor to the State of Israel and to scientific activity both in Israel and worldwide,” said Israel’s Minister of Education and Wolf Foundation Council Chairman, Gideon Sa’ar. “Moreover, the prize has become a predictor of the Nobel: one out of every three Wolf Prize Laureates–in chemistry, physics and medicine–have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize, among them, Professor Ada Yonath, the 2009 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.”

R. James Cook
R. James Cook at the Cook Agronomy Farm near Pullman, Wash. Click image to download high-resolution version.

The Wolf Foundation was started in 1976 with an endowment of $10 million donated by the Wolf family. The founders and major donors were Dr. Ricardo Subirana y Lobo Wolf and his wife, Francisca. Annual income from investments is used for prizes, scholarships and Foundation operating expenses.

The prize description states that Cook is being acknowledged “for seminal discoveries in plant pathology and soil microbiology that impact crop productivity and disease management. Through an understanding of the factors that impact the ecology of pathogenic and non-pathogenic microbes. Professor Cook´s work has improved disease control in wheat and barley and altered paradigms of plant disease control in other crops.

“As a true pioneer in plant pathology, Cook has initiated, developed and is leading, the field of biological control of plant diseases. In this respect, he has had an impact beyond his own field. Professor Cook led the team that discovered the nature of suppressive soils that limit the growth of certain plant pathogens. He has identified and provided both fundamental and practical solutions to control different groups of soil-borne pathogens.

“In addition to his impact on research, Professor Cook is highly influential in the practice and policy of agricultural sciences. He is a very prolific writer who has published many papers. His peers report that his work has had a dramatic effect on virtually every aspect of discussion and decision-making on field crop disease management.”

Dan Bernardo, the current dean of CAHNRS, said, “This is truly a testament to a wonderful career. Jim continues to inspire us! I frequently use Jim’s program as an example of one that provides a scientist international acclaim for scientific contributions and immediate impact in helping agriculture. Jim has demonstrated, beyond a doubt, if that you are intentional in addressing each of these goals day in and day out, they can both be achieved at the highest level.”


For more information about the Wolf Prize, please see