Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Nathan Augustus Cobb, 1859-1932

item Barker, Kenneth
item Chitwood, David
item Eisenback, Jonathan

Submitted to: American Phytopathological Society
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/14/2007
Publication Date: 7/28/2007
Citation: Barker, K.R., Chitwood, D.J., Eisenback, J.D. 2007. Nathan Augustus Cobb, 1859-1932. In: Paulitz, T.C., editor. American Phytopathological Society Centennial Calendar. St. Paul, MN: American Phytopathological Society Press. p. 29-30.

Interpretive Summary: Plant-parasitic nematodes are microscopic soil worms that cause billions of dollars in crop losses each year in the United States. All U.S. researchers who have successfully fought the problems caused by nematodes owe a tremendous debt to the USDA scientist who is often called the Father of Nematology in the United States, Nathan Augustus Cobb. This short biography of Cobb will be printed on a calendar to be published in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the national organization of scientists that study plant diseases. The biography describes many of Cobb’s research achievements, such as his identification of thousands of species of nematodes and his discovery of nematodes on the first shipment of Japanese cherry trees to the United States in 1909. The latter discovery was significant because it contributed to the passage of the first U.S. law that regulated the introduction of dangerous pests on imported plants. Inclusion of this information in a calendar will remind plant disease specialists of the continued importance of nematodes and the need to minimize their damage.

Technical Abstract: N. A. Cobb’s fundamental and applied research, his training of the first generation of nematologists in the United States, and his increasing the awareness of the importance of nematodes brought him the title of Father of Nematology in the United States. Born in 1859 in Massachusetts, Cobb earned his doctorate on marine nematodes at the University of Jena in Germany in 1889. After a short time in Italy, Cobb moved to Australia, where he became the country’s first full-time vegetable pathologist. In 1907, he was given a USDA position to work on cotton. In a secondary assignment, he inspected a 1909 Japanese gift of 2,000 cherry trees to the United States and found severe insect and nematode problems. That situation and Cobb’s input led to the first U.S. quarantine act in 1912. Cobb’s insistence and his 1914 proposal that a separate branch of science was necessary for the study of nematodes led to a 1915 USDA directive allowing him to devote all of his efforts to nematodes. He subsequently identified and described more than 1,000 nematode species; he also named numerous nematode structures. Cobb advanced our knowledge of nematode morphology, function, classification, ecology, economic losses, and needed methodologies; and his exceptional artistic depictions of nematodes remain unmatched. In 1918, the USDA established the Division of Nematology and named Cobb as its head. Through his research and the building of a staff of superbly talented scientists, Cobb uniquely advanced the science of nematology.

Last Modified: 06/26/2017
Footer Content Back to Top of Page