April 25, 2006
La Jolla, CA – Salk Institute professor Joseph R. Ecker, who spearheaded the first effort to decipher a plant genome, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. The Academy made the announcement today during its 143rd annual meeting in Washington, DC. Election to the Academy recognizes distinguished and continuing achievements in original research, and is considered one of the highest honors accorded a U.S. scientist.
Dr. Ecker, a professor in the Plant Biology Laboratory and director of the Salk Institute Genomic Analysis Laboratory, is an internationally recognized authority on the molecular biology and genetics of plants. His pioneering research on the gaseous plant hormone ethylene has yielded fundamental insights into the mechanisms of plant growth control, and has led to the development of technologies that delay fruit ripening and disease processes. Richard Murphy, President and CEO of the Salk Institute, noted that “Joe Ecker has been an international leader in plant genomics whose innovative technologies have influenced all aspects of biological research. He is truly deserving of this honor”.
Dr. Ecker was one of the first plant biologists to understand the implications of genomics. Early on, he advocated the mapping and sequencing of the genome of the tiny mustard weed Arabidopsis thaliana and directed much of the sequencing project. Commonly known as thale cress, Arabidopsis was the first flowering plant to have its entire genome unlocked. Thanks in large part to this genome project, Arabidopsis is now widely considered one of the most important model organisms for the study of plant genetics and genomes.
In a single elegant experiment, Dr. Ecker and his collaborators identified most of the genes in Arabidopsis by designing a set of gene chips spanning the entire genome. This gene library allowed them to produce a series of indexed insertions that disrupt the function of specific genes, a tool that has revolutionized plant biology. Because of Dr. Ecker’s vision, researchers around the world can now mail-order Arabidopsis seeds that carry a mutation in almost any gene.
Dr. Ecker and his team are continuing to explore the encyclopedia of DNA elements in Arabidopsis, through the development of an interactive database where scientists can click on any Arabidopsis gene and see which RNAs and proteins are being made and the myriad connections among them.
As of today, 13 of the Salk Institute’s 59 faculty are members of the National Academy of Sciences.
Joe Ecker earned his Ph.D. in Microbiology at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine and carried out postdoctoral studies at Stanford University. He served on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania (1987-2000) before joining the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where he is a professor in the Plant Biology Laboratory and director of the Salk Institute Genomic Analysis Laboratory.
Dr. Ecker has been the recipient of multiple honors, including the Kumho Science International Award in Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (2001), the International Plant Growth Substances Association Distinguished Research Award (2004), and the American Society for Plant Molecular Biology Martin Gibbs Medal (2005). He was chosen as the Scientific American 50: Research Leader of the Year in Agriculture in 2004. Dr. Ecker currently serves as President of the International Society for Plant Molecular Biology.
The National Academy of Sciences is an organization of scientists and engineers established by Congress and dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. It was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, which calls on the Academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.
Additional information about the Academy is available at www.nasonline.org.
Internationally renowned for its groundbreaking basic research in the biological sciences, the Salk Institute was founded in 1960 by Dr. Jonas Salk, five years after he developed the first safe and effective vaccine against polio. The Institute’s 59 faculty members are scientific leaders in the fields of molecular biology, neurosciences and plant biology.