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Three Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) Scientists honored as AAAS Fellows

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) awards honors of distinction to Dr. Maria Harrison and Dr. Daniel Klessig, BTI scientists and adjunct professors in Cornell University’s, Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology and Dr. Georg Jander, BTI scientist and adjunct professor in Cornell University’s Department of Plant Biology. These three selected scholars bring the number of BTI AAAS fellows to seven, or 42% of the BTI faculty.

This prestigious award recognizes scientists’ commendable work towards the advancement of science or its applications. Individuals are nominated by an AAAS Steering Committee, a group of three Fellows who are current AAAS members (two of the three cannot be associated with the nominee’s institution), or by the AAAS Chief Executive Officer. AAAS is an international professional association of scientists and is affiliated with the journal Science.

Dr. Maria Harrison, whose work has been done at BTI and at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Oklahoma, was recognized for her discoveries on arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis and associated aspects of phosphate transport and nutrition in plants.

“I am delighted to receive this recognition and I share it with all the members of my lab, past and present,” said Harrison, “without whom there would not have been any research advances.”

Harrison has been a leader in developing Medicago truncatula as an experimental modeling system to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying development, signal transduction, and phosphate acquisition roots. M. truncatula is now a widely used model system for investigating both the AM and rhizobial symbioses. Dr. Harrison has continued to play an important role in popularizing its use and particularly in the development of the large array of genomics resources that are now available for this plant species. Her research will lead to improvements in agriculture including possible reductions in pesticides and fertilizer usage.

For almost three decades, Dr. Daniel Klessig has made major contributions to our understanding of how plants protect themselves again microbial pathogens and particularly the role of Salicylic Acid (SA) in plant immunity.

Klessig said. “I’m pleased that our contributions to plant pathology have been recognized by AAAS. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many students and post doctoral fellows in our group who made this possible and my colleagues for their support.”

Since his group’s discovery of SA as a critical hormone in plant immunity in the early 1990s, Dr. Klessig has been studying how this hormone works. To do this, he has led a team that has been developing and optimizing new techniques to detect proteins whose activities are altered when they bind SA. His work has been instrumental in understanding how SA functions in plants and offers potential for increased plant immunity. In addition, deciphering SA’s mechanisms of action in plants may help us understand the pharmacological effects of SA—and its derivative aspirin—on human ailments such as cancer, stroke, and heart attacks.

Dr. Georg Jander is recognized for his research on the genetic and biochemical approaches to understand plant-insect interactions and plant amino acid metabolism.

“This award from AAAS is not only a personal honor, stated Dr. Jander, “but also reflects the importance of plant research in the wider scientific community of the United States.”

Using the model system Arabidopsis thaliana, he specifically focuses on the how plants defend themselves against phloem-feeding insects such as aphids. This has included the identification of aphid-induced gene expression changes and the discovery of novel plant toxins that are produced in response to aphid attack. Current research in Dr. Jander’s group is focused on investigating how plant viruses, which rely on aphids for transfer to new hosts, manipulate plant defenses to promote their own transmission.

The 2012 AAAS Fellows will be announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the November 30, 2012, issue of the journal Science.