Considered the world authority on the genetics, cytogenetics, and evolution of the tomato, Charley Rick’s 42-year career at UC Davis is legendary. Part Charles Darwin and part Indiana Jones, Rick was as much at home in his campus office, laboratory, and greenhouse as he was in the Andes, the Galapagos, and other places where he repeatedly went in search of wild tomato genetic materials which might, through crossing, improve the tolerance of domestic commercial varieties to drought, salinity, cold, and other stresses. By the end of his career, Rick had gathered over 2,600 tomato specimens from North and South America and Europe, making his government-funded germplasm collection the largest in the world.
With this collection, he made landmark contributions in plant genetics, evolution, and genome mapping. Later in his career, Rick established and directed the Tomato Genetics Resource Center, a facility now bearing his name that continues to this day to serve as a permanent bank of genetic material for the tomato and other members of the nightshade family. His collected germplasm has been and continues to be used to improve tomato production around the world.
Dr. Rick published 150 papers in research journals and 146 research notes in the Report of the Tomato Genetics Cooperative, a group which he himself founded in 1949. There were also many applied phases to his research on the tomato: producing hybrids for commercial planting; establishing the value of male sterility in tomato breeding; investigating the effect of planting design on natural cross-pollination and seed production; developing means of identifying mutants early in their development; discovering linkage relations in mutants; and describing the effect in breeding of non-random gene distributions. An excellent lecturer and committed teacher, Rick participated extensively in international research projects and symposia and traveled widely as a visiting scientist and lecturer, even into retirement.