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Dr. Jeffery Schachterle: Fieldwork First

A light-skinned man with brown hair cut above his ears and a little longer on top smiles widely to the camera, lines around his mouth and dimple creasing. He has brown eyes and several prominent freckles across his face. He's wearing a dark navy blue suit with wide lapels, a white collared shirt, and a shiny true blue tie.
Photo by BYU Photo

When you’ve worked with produce for as long as Dr. Jeffrey Schachterle (MMBIO) has, you start to see the fruit in stores differently. He doesn’t see apples simply by color, texture, or species—his mind envisions the people who tended the orchards. It was growers who best informed his research during the years he dedicated to understanding and treating fire blight. Although this disease is not well known by the average consumer, fire blight “has destroyed pear and apple orchards in much of North America, in parts of Europe, and in New Zealand and Japan,” according to Brittanica. The work of plant pathologists like Schachterle determines whether those apples resist these blights well enough to make it to your supermarket.

Learning in the Lab

Schachterle didn't plan to become a microbiologist or work with bacteria. He completed his bachelor’s in biochemistry at BYU without taking a single microbiology class. Instead, he got started in bacteriology as an undergraduate in the lab of Dr. David Erickson. The opportunity changed his life. Under Erickson, Schachterle studied how cells attach to each other in the bacterium Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, which spreads an infection through food. The world of bacteria opened up to him, guiding him through his career up until now. As one of BYU’s new faculty members, he can provide students with their own out-of-classroom learning experiences.

In particular, Schachterle would like to see students working in the field so they understand who their research affects and why it matters. His lab is up and running with ten student researchers. They’re studying soft rot in potatoes, a disease that looks like an odorous soft cream surrounded by a dark ring on the skin. Schachterle shifted to potato diseases while working for the USDA as a research plant pathologist in Maryland and North Dakota. Despite the sticky subject, he holds a particular fondness for tater tot casserole—or hot dish, as North Dakotans would call it.

"God knows our cells."
Dr. Jeffrey Schachterle

Looking at the smallest elements of pathogenic bacteria changed how Schachterle sees supermarkets and himself. “God knows our cells,” he realized. Understanding God’s attention to detail has helped him lovingly raise his three sons and treasure his relationship with his wife, Elizabeth. They often spend weekends together outdoors, even in colder months. A winter in Provo is nothing compared to a winter in Fargo.