Frank Zhao
Frank Zhao

Washington State University has hired a bacterial plant pathologist to fill an empty tree fruit endowment chair position.

Frank Zhao, a professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will start work in January at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, said Scot Hulbert, the associate dean of agricultural research. 

Zhao will be one of six endowed chairs at WSU, supported by a $32 million endowment from the state’s tree fruit industry. A panel of industry advisors help WSU set hiring priorities for the endowment. 

The advisors asked the university to hire a plant pathologist to help find ways to mitigate fire blight, an increasingly common bacterial problem in Washington apple and pear orchards. Zhao has written in books and research journals about fire blight, including passages about the bacteria’s genetics.

Next up for hire will be an entomology endowed chair, Hulbert said. The university likely will launch a search in January.

The advisory committee has suggested revisiting a search for a soil science endowed chair in 2023, Hulbert said. The university and the committee tabled the position after two unsuccessful searches. 

—by Ross Courtney