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Marie-Pascale Latorse: Biologist Mother of Fungicides

When she talks about protecting crops from fungi, students visiting Lyon research center can’t help but listen. Marie-Pascale Latorse has made major contributions to the market success of two fungicides, but that’s not all. She’s also on a daily mission to create a better reputation for modern crop science – using her own unique methods.

Especially when talking to young people, I constantly try to find parallels to their lives and concerns. And I always learn something myself.

Marie-Pascale Latorse is an expert for plant diseases and solutions.

When I stand in my garden and my chainsaw starts roaring, the whole world around me fades away. I stop caring about the active substance we may be working on in the lab. For these minutes, I don’t think about the people that will visit Lyon’s La Dargoire Research Center the next day. My mind is on an old tree in front of me that has to be trimmed, and with the surrounding nature. These 2.7 hectares of land, and the old farmhouse where I live with my husband, are my personal little paradise.

I grew up in a small village in the Cognac area of southwest France. My family has been always linked to farming and woodworking. Since I can remember, I was in contact many growers and with plants, smelling forestland and mushrooms, hay and harvest grapes, so it came naturally to me to go into plant biology. As a phytopathologist in Lyon for the last thirty years, I’ve been motivated every day to contribute to help the people who’ve dedicated their own lives to growing healthy crops. Maybe my family roots and my teenage experience harvesting vine grapes also explains my passion for wine, including my collection of over 800 bottles stored in my cellar.

Medicines for Plants

I see myself as a doctor for plants, listening carefully the growers’ comments and needs to diagnose and explain the best solution to apply. My team and I are involved in finding new ‘medicines’ for crops to protect them from the fungi responsible for the vast majority of plant diseases. Today, about 60 percent of the fungicides on the market use only three different cellular mechanisms, or modes of action, to kill the fungi. This means that the selection pressure on the fungi is high. It’s just a matter of time before they will become resistant to the group of fungicides acting on the same cellular target; this is similar to what we see in medicine today with antibiotics against bacterial diseases. Finding a new specific fungicidal target in phytopathogenic fungi is like holding the Holy Grail in your hands.

So we have to monitor resistance against available products and constantly adapt to new situations. Due to globalization, we also need to find solutions against fungi that weren’t a problem some decades ago. But this search fascinates me, day after day. A trainee student once told me that I might be the only woman who is delighted about mold on a bouquet of flowers.

I’ve always been curious in understanding the mechanisms behind things, and I’m also a practical person. These are the qualities that scientists are made of. So this is one reason why I went to Versailles and earned a diploma in agronomy after my PhD in plant biology: I wanted to understand a farmer’s challenges, to feel and touch the soil and the plants. Consequently, my goal is to solve problems and to find practical solutions for those who work on the fields. During my career, I became the ‘mother’ of two fungicides on the market, Fenomen® and Fluopicolide, and the nurse of fosetyl-Al, the first plant defense enhancer on the market. These products help to fight late blight in potatoes and the vine and vegetable downy mildews. I’m very proud that I contributed to making farmers’ lives a little easier.

Guiding Research Out of its Cave

A quite new, exciting part of my working life is to share my passion for crop science with the world outside Bayer – by inviting people in. Half of my time, I spend with students and other interested groups of people like growers, customers or journalists who come to our research center in Lyon. By representing science and everyone involved in producing pesticides, I have the unique chance to explain what we do, how and why – to ensure that there are complementary solutions available for sustainable agriculture, in respect of consumer health and the environment, to produce enough food of good quality on this planet.

The research world has locked itself up for too long. We need to become transparent so that people start trusting our work again. I love a constructive discussion, so my job as an ambassador doesn’t finish when I leave the office. When I’m at home in my garden, riding on my lawn mower tractor, or buying groceries in the local store or even having dinner with our friends, I wear my Bayer shirt. Some people might find it provocative. For me, this is a way of opening a conversation to clear some misunderstandings about science and modern agriculture.

Whenever I finish trimming an old tree in my garden, I sit down on the terrace with my husband. From time to time we talk about plants, about our work in science, about the problems in the world. But more often, in our personal little paradise, we talk about good food – and great wine, of course.

CV: Marie-Pascale Latorse

1958 Born in Montendre, France

1985 PhD in plant biology at Université de Bordeaux, France

1986 Agronomic Diploma in phytopathology at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Horticulture in Versailles, France

1986 Lab Leader at Rhône-Poulenc Agrochimie in Lyon, France

1987-1993 1st Project Manager on nicotinate family against rice blast at Rhône-Poulenc Agrochimie in Lyon, France

1990-2010 Lab Leader Projects & Products Support Vegetables and Vine Downy Mildew and Potato Late Blight at Aventis Crop Science in Lyon, France

2009 Phytopathology expert at Bayer Crop Science in Lyon, France

2013 Lab Leader, Bioavailability, at Bayer Crop Science in Lyon, France

Since 2017 Research Fellow in the target generation team and social acceptance at Bayer Crop Science in Lyon, France

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