Two University of Tennessee plant pathologists whose work with disease-resistant dogwood trees has revitalized the state’s nursery industry are the 2007 recipients of the university’s most prestigious award for entrepreneurship.
Robert Trigiano and Mark Windham will share the Wheeley Award for Technology Transfer, which recognizes scientific achievement coupled with entrepreneurial accomplishments. Both are researchers in the UT Institute of Agriculture’s Tennessee Experiment Station and teach in the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
Trigiano and Windham have developed a number of dogwood varieties that are resistant to dogwood anthracnose or to powdery mildew, two tree-killing diseases that have limited the use of the species in ornamental horticulture in recent decades. The varieties, or cultivars, are sold under the "Appalachian" trademark.
"Achieving disease resistance in dogwoods and other ornamental plants is an important scientific accomplishment," said Fred Tompkins, president of the UT Research Foundation and UT associate vice president for research and economic development. "With this breakthrough in hand, Trigiano and Windham then pushed to make the results of their science available to the general public by marketing the new varieties.
"The Wheeley Award is being presented to these two faculty members because of the combination of good science and a successful entrepreneurial venture."
In the mid-1990s, Trigiano and Windham discovered a single anthracnose-resistant dogwood in Catoctin National Park near Camp David, Md. Subsequent research showed that the saplings they cultivated from that original tree are capable of surviving the disease, which kills both wild and domestic dogwoods across the United States. They named the cultivar "Appalachian Spring," and 19 nurseries in Tennessee and Oregon now have licensed it for sale nationwide.
In 2002, the pair followed "Appalachian Spring" with patents for three "Appalachian" varieties that are resistant to powdery mildew, a disease that made domestic cultivation of dogwoods extremely expensive for nursery companies. They currently are seeking a patent on a fourth cultivar, "Appalachian Joy," that is also mildew-resistant and has more showy blooms.
To manage licensing and marketing, in 2006 Trigiano and Windham created Creative Agricultural Technologies, which will handle not only the dogwoods but also other agricultural products developed at UT. The company recently licensed the nation’s largest wholesale nursery, J. Frank Schmidt Nursery, to grow the UT dogwoods.
Development of the disease-resistant dogwoods will benefit society and the environment, said John Hopkins, director of technology transfer for the foundation, who nominated Trigiano and Windham. These "Appalachian" dogwoods are resistant to the common fungal pathogen powdery mildew, thus reducing the use of fungicidal chemicals that can be toxic to the environment and exposed individuals.
The Wheeley Award will be made at ceremonies on Oct. 30 in the banquet room at the UT Visitors Center. L. Ray Moncrief, president of Meritus Ventures, will speak at the luncheon. Moncrief, a venture investor, has had a long career in economic development, entrepreneurship and the mentoring of small businesses in Kentucky and the Southeast.
The Wheeley Award was established by B. Otto and Kathleen Wheeley to recognize and encourage technology transfer. Wheeley, a UT graduate, was deputy chairman of the Koppers Co. and president of Kopvenco, its venture capital subsidiary. He founded Venture First Associates Inc., and has worked with the university to promote commercial development of university research. Eleven faculty have received the award since it was established in 1989.