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FPS Announces New Director, Maher Al Rwahnih

Foundation Plant Services (FPS) at the University of California (UC) Davis is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Maher Al Rwahnih as the next FPS Director. Maher’s extensive work with clean stock programs and viral diseases of woody plants along with his development of advanced diagnostic tools make him uniquely suited to advance the mission of FPS.

Maher received his Bachelor of Science degree in Plant Protection from the University of Jordan, Amman, in 1994. He then earned a master’s degree in Plant Virology from the International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic studies in Bari, Italy, in 2000, followed by a PhD in Plant Virology from the University of Bari, Italy, in 2004. After receiving his PhD, Maher joined FPS where he served as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow before becoming an Academic Administrator. In 2016, Maher was promoted to Director of FPS Diagnostics and Research Laboratory.

Maher has developed an expertise in the diagnosis and control of infectious diseases of fruit trees and grapevines, specializing in the etiology, molecular characterization, and molecular diagnostics of virus diseases in those crops. He has more than twenty years’ experience developing diagnostic tools for the detection and identification of agents of those virus diseases. He pioneered the characterization of plant viruses in FPS crops such as grapevines, roses, and fruit and nut trees through the application of a novel process known as high throughput sequencing (HTS) and bioinformatics. Those advances have translated into improvements in clean stock programs for the management and eventual elimination of diseases in vineyards, orchards and fields.

Maher has established an important and highly productive national and international research program, sharing his work and expertise developed at FPS and elsewhere. He has contributed over 100 peer-reviewed journal publications and seven book chapters and has numerous presentations at scientific meetings to his credit. Maher also serves as an instructor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology.

In the regulatory arena, Maher has collaborated closely with colleagues at the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Plant Protection and Quarantine Program and at the California Department of Food & Agriculture Registration & Certification Programs. He provides technical support and advice on the adoption of HTS technologies for applications in routine certification testing. Maher also provides input to scientists internationally on the development of standards for use of HTS in plant diagnostics. Since 2009, he has taken an active role in the National Clean Plant Network, an organization of experts and scientists from clean stock programs throughout the United States dedicated to ensuring the availability of clean plant material to industry stakeholders.

Maher is excited for the opportunity to guide FPS in meeting future challenges and advancing the FPS mission. He expects to advance the role of FPS as a global leader in the production, maintenance and distribution of elite, disease-tested plant propagation materials for commercial specialty crop industries in California and across the United States. Maher also looks forward to strengthening the research and regulatory collaborations already developed and exploring additional opportunities to improve plant health and enhance resource availability at the local, national and global levels.