Submitted to: Pioneering Women in Plant Pathology
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: August 1, 2006
Publication Date: January 1, 2008
Citation: Meyer, S.L., Chitwood, D.J. 2008. Edna Marie Buhrer (1898-1988) and Grace Whitney Sherman Cobb (1905-1993): Pioneering nematologists at the USDA Nematology Laboratory. In: Ristaino, J.B., editor. Pioneering Women in Plant Pathology. St. Paul, MN: American Phytopathological Society Press. p. 67-83.
Interpretive Summary: Plant-parasitic nematodes are microscopic worms that cause ten billion dollars in U.S. crop losses annually. Scientists at the USDA have conducted studies on plant-parasitic nematodes since the early 1900's, and the ARS Nematology Laboratory is one of the oldest research units at Beltsville. Among the pioneers conducting nematology research at the USDA were Edna Marie Buhrer and Grace Whitney Sherman Cobb, who were colleagues for almost four decades. Unfortunately, there is little published information on the background or personal accomplishments of these two eminent scientists. This paper, a chapter in a book focusing on the contributions of eminent women scientists, addresses this deficiency by summarizing the research and related accomplishments of Buhrer and Cobb throughout their careers. This information is significant because it provides historical background about nematology research at the USDA, as well as the most detailed biographical material about these two pioneers. This information will be used by scientists and historians to gain a further understanding of the work done by women scientists when nematology research was in its infancy.
Edna Marie Buhrer and Grace Whitney Sherman Cobb were colleagues at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for almost four decades. Edna was hired at the USDA in 1921, and Grace in 1926; they consequently began studying plant-parasitic nematodes when the field of nematology was developing as an important part of agriculture. They conducted research, trained scientists and new employees at the Beltsville Laboratory, and prepared lists of nematology information for laboratory workers, nematologists around the world, and the general public. Both women continued their entire scientific careers at the same USDA research unit, relocating to a new job site in 1940 when the Nematology Laboratory was moved from Washington D.C. to its current location in Beltsville. Edna published about 40 research papers on plant nematology, including lists of common names for plant-parasitic nematodes and plant hosts attacked by the nematodes. Grace was an author of ten publications, helped develop heat procedures for controlling nematodes, and at one time was in charge of identification of all cyst nematodes sent from quarantine agencies.