PULLMAN – Professor emeritus James Cook will receive the Wolf Prize for Agriculture from the Israel-based Wolf Foundation in Jerusalem on May 23.
“The prize has become a predictor of the Nobel,” said Israel’s Minister of Education and Wolf Foundation Council Chairman Gideon Sa’ar. “One out of every three Wolf Prize Laureates – in chemistry, physics and medicine – has gone on to receive the Nobel Prize.”
Honored for altering paradigms
of plant disease control

The Wolf 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.”
“All the work that led to this was done at WSU,” Cook said. “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.”
“This is truly a testament to a wonderful career,” said Dan Bernardo, dean of CAHNRS. “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, that if you are intentional in addressing each of these goals day in and day out, they can both be achieved at the highest level,” he said.
The Wolf prizes are awarded annually in agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics and the arts in order to promote science and the arts for the benefit of humankind. Laureates receive their awards from the president of the State of Israel at a ceremony at the Knesset Building (Israel´s parliament).
Cook, former dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) and emeritus professor of plant pathology and crop and soil sciences, will share the $100,000 prize with Harris A. Lewin of the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois.
“This is truly an outstanding and well-deserved honor,” said WSU President Elson S. Floyd. “Jim Cook is, without question, one of the finest research scientists in the history of our university. 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.”

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Cook said he received a phone call early in the morning informing him that he had won the prize.

“I was hollering with joy and woke my wife up,” he said. “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.”
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.
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.
“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 Sa’ar.