Joseph R. Ecker
B.A., Biology/Chemistry, The College of New Jersey, Ewing, N.J.
Ph.D., Microbiology, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine
Postdoctoral fellow, Stanford University School of Medicine
Joseph R. Ecker, a professor in the Plant Biology Laboratory, is one of the nation's leading authorities on the molecular biology and genetics of plants. Ecker was a principal investigator in the multinational project that sequenced the genome of Arabidopsis thaliana, a modest weed that has become a model organism for the study of plant genetics. This wild mustard variety is the first plant to have its genome sequenced, an achievement expected to have widespread implications for agriculture and perhaps human medicine as well.
Ecker is also widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on how the gaseous hormone ethylene regulates a variety of basic plant processes. For agriculture, ethylene gas is a vital chemical messenger important for such processes as fruit ripening and how plants respond to pathogenic organisms.
"Nature vs. nurture, genes vs. environment—what is more important? My group is interested in
understanding the roles of genetic and 'epigenetic' processes in cell growth and development.
By understanding how the genome and epigenome talk to one another, we hope to be able to untangle
the complexity of gene regulatory processes that underlie development and disease in plants and humans."
Although the human genome sequence lists
almost every single DNA base of the roughly
3 billion bases that make up a human genome,
it doesn't tell biologists much about
how its function is regulated. That job belongs
to the epigenome, the layer of genetic
control beyond the regulation inherent in
the sequence of the genes themselves.
Being able to study the epigenome in its
entirety promises a better understanding of
how genome function is regulated in health
and disease, as well as how gene expression
is influenced by diet and the environment.
One of the ways epigenetic signals can tinker
with genetic information is through DNA
methylation, a chemical modification of one
letter, C (cytosine), of the four letters (A, G,
C, and T) that comprise our DNA. In the last
couple of years, Ecker's laboratory started
to zero in on genomic methylation patterns,
which are essential for normal development
and associated with a number of key cellular
processes, including carcinogenesis.
To ascertain how the epigenome of a differentiated
cell differs from the epigenome of
a pluripotent stem cell, his team used an
ultra-high-throughput methodology to determine
precisely whether or not each C in
the genome is methylated and to layer the
resulting epigenomic map upon the exact
genome it regulates. The study revealed a
highly dynamic, yet tightly controlled,
landscape of chemical signposts known
as methyl groups and resulted in the first
detailed map of the human epigenome, comparing
the epigenomes of human embryonic
stem cells and differentiated connective
cells from the lung called fibroblasts. The
head-to-head comparison brought to light
a novel DNA methylation pattern unique to
stem cells, which may explain how stem
cells establish and maintain their pluripotent
Now that they are able to create high-resolution
maps of the human epigenome,
Ecker's group will begin to examine how
it changes during normal development as
well as in a variety of disease states.
Awards and Honors
- 2011 Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
- 2011 George W. Beadle Award, Genetics Society of America
- 2009 #2 Scientific Discovery of the Year 2009-TIME Magazine
- 2007 National Academy of Sciences, John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science
- 2006 Elected, National Academy of Sciences
- 2005 American Society for Plant Biology, Martin Gibbs Medal
- 2004 Scientific American 50 Research Leader of the Year
- 2004 International Plant Growth Substances Association Distinguished Research Award
- 2001 Kumho Science International Award in Plant Molecular Biology
- President International Society for Plant Molecular Biology
Alonso, J.M., Stepanova, A.N., Leisse, T.J., Kim, C.J., Chen, H., Shinn, P., Stevenson, D.K., Zimmerman, J., Barajas, P., Cheuk, R., Gadrinab, C., Heller, C., Jeske, A., Koesema, E., Meyers, C.C., Parker, H., Prednis, L., Ansari, Y., Choy, N., Deen, H., Geralt, M., Hazari, N., Hom, E., Karnes, M., Mulholland, C., Ndubaku, R., Schmidt, I., Guzman, P., Aguilar-Henonin, L., Schmid, M., Weigel, D., Carter, D.E., Marchand, T., Risseeuw, E., Brogden, D., Zeko, A., Crosby, W.L., Berry, C.C. and Ecker. J.R., (2003) Genome-wide Insertional mutagenesis of Arabidopsis thaliana. Science. 301:653-657.
Yamada K, Lim J, Dale JM, Chen H, Shinn P, Palm CJ, Southwick AM, Wu HC, Kim C, Nguyen M, Pham P, Cheuk R, Karlin-Newmann G, Liu SX, Lam B, Sakano H, Wu T, Yu G, Miranda M, Quach HL, Tripp M, Chang CH, Lee JM, Toriumi M, Chan MM, Tang CC, Onodera CS, Deng JM, Akiyama K, Ansari Y, Arakawa T, Banh J, Banno F, Bowser L, Brooks S, Carninci P, Chao Q, Choy N, Enju A, Goldsmith AD, Gurjal M, Hansen NF, Hayashizaki Y, Johnson-Hopson C, Hsuan VW, Iida K, Karnes M, Khan S, Koesema E, Ishida J, Jiang PX, Jones T, Kawai J, Kamiya A, Meyers C, Nakajima M, Narusaka M, Seki M, Sakurai T, Satou M, Tamse R, Vaysberg M, Wallender EK, Wong C, Yamamura Y, Yuan S, Shinozaki K, Davis RW, Theologis A, and Ecker JR. (2003) Empirical analysis of transcriptional activity in the Arabidopsis genome. Science. 302:842-846.
Guo, H., and Ecker J.R. (2003) Plant Responses to Ethylene Gas Are Mediated by SCFEBF1/EBF2-dependent Proteolysis of EIN3 transcription factor. Cell. 115: 667-677.
Wang, K. L., Yoshida, H., Lurin, C., and Ecker, J. R. (2004). Regulation of ethylene gas biosynthesis by the Arabidopsis ETO1 protein. Nature. 428, 945-950.
Li, H., Johnson, P., Stepanova, A., Alonso, J. M., and Ecker, J. R. (2004). Convergence of signaling pathways in the control of differential cell growth in Arabidopsis. Dev Cell. 7, 193-204.
Mockler TC, Chan S, Sundaresan A, Chen H, Jacobsen SE, Ecker JR. (2005) Applications of DNA tiling arrays for whole-genome analysis. Genomics. 85(1):1-15.
Alonso, J.M. and J.R. Ecker (2006) Moving forward in reverse: genetic technologies to enable genome-wide phenomic screens in Arabidopsis. Nat. Rev. Genet. 7:524-
Olmedo, G., G. Guo, B.D. Gregory, S.D. Nourizadeh, L. Aguilar-Henonin, H. Li, H. An, P. Guzman, and J.R. Ecker (2006) ETHYLENE-INSENSITIVE5 encodes a 5'→3' exoribonuclease required for regulation of the EIN3-targeting F-box proteins EBF1/2. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, |. 103: 13286-13293
Zhang, X., Yazaki, J., Sundaresan, A. Cokus,S., Chan, S.W.-L., Chen, H., Henderson, I.R., Shinn, P., Pellegrini, M., Jacobsen, S.E., and Ecker, J.R. (2006) Genome-wide high-resolution mapping and functional analysis of DNA methylation in Arabidopsis. Cell. 126, 1189-1201
Clark, RM, Schweikert, G., Toomajian, C., Ossowski, S., Zeller, G., Shinn, P., Warthmann, N., Hu, T.T., Fu, G., Hinds. D.A. , Chen, H., Frazer, K.A., Huson, D.H., Schölkopf, B., Nordborg, M., Rätsch, G., Ecker. J. R., and Weigel, D. (2007) Common sequence polymorphisms shaping genetic diversity in Arabidopsis thaliana. Science. 317(5836):338-42
Lister, R., O'Malley, R.C., Tonti-Filippini, J., Gregory, B.D., Berry, C.C., Millar, A.H. and Ecker, J.R. (2008) Highly integrated single-base resolution maps of the epigenome in Arabidopsis. Cell. 133:1-14 | Download the article
Lister, R., Pelizzola, M., Dowen, R.H, Hawkins, R.D., Hon, G., Tonti-Filippini, J., Nery, J.R., Lee, L., Ye, Z., Ngo, Q-M., Edsall, L., Antosiewicz-Bourget, J., Stewart, R., Ruotti, V., Millar, A.H., Thomson, J.A., Ren, B. and Ecker, J.R. (2009) Human DNA methylomes at base resolution show widespread epigenomic differences. Nature. 462:315-322
Lister R., Pelizzola M., Kida Y.S., Hawkins R.D., Nery J.R., Hon G., Antosiewicz-Bourget J., O'Malley R., Castanon R., Klugman S., Downes M., Yu R., Stewart R., Ren B., Thomson J.A., Evans R.M. and Ecker J.R. (2011) Hotspots of aberrant epigenomic reprogramming in human induced pluripotent stem cells. Nature Mar 3;471(7336):68-73. Epub 2011 Feb 2.
Evidence for network evolution in an Arabidopsis interactome map. Arabidopsis Interactome Mapping Consortium. Science. 2011 333(6042):601-7.
Mukhtar, M.S., Carvunis, A.R., Dreze, M., Epple, P., Steinbrenner, J., Moore, J., Tasa,n M., Galli, M., Hao, T., Nishimura, M.T., Pevzner, S.J., Donovan, S.E., Ghamsari, .L, Santhanam, B., Romero, V., Poulin, M.M., Gebreab, F., Gutierrez, B.J., Tam, S., Monachello, D., Boxem, M., Harbort, C.J., McDonald, N., Gai, L., Chen. H., He, Y., European Union Effectoromics Consortium, Vandenhaute, J., Roth, F.P., Hill, D.E., Ecker, J.R., Vidal, M., Beynon, J., Braun, P., Dangl, J.L. (2011) Independently evolved virulence effectors converge onto hubs in a plant immune system network. Science. 333(6042):596-601.
Schmitz, R.J., Schultz, M.D., Lewsey, M.G., O'Malley, R.C., Urich, M.A., Libiger, O., Schork, N.J., Ecker, J.R. (2011) Transgenerational Epigenetic Instability Is a Source of Novel Methylation Variants. Science. 334(6054):369-73. Abstract | Download the article
Qiao, H., Shen, Z., Huang, S.S., Schmitz, RJ., Urich, M.A., Briggs, S.P. and Ecker, J.R. (2012) Processing and Subcellular Trafficking of ER-Tethered EIN2 Control Response to Ethylene Gas. Science 338(6105):390-393. Abstract
Schmitz, R.J., Schultz, M.D., Urich, M.A., Nery, J.R., Pelizzola, M., Libiger, O., Alix, A., McCosh, R.B., Chen, H., Schork, N.J. and Ecker, J.R. (2013) Patterns of population epigenomic diversity. Nature. Mar 14;495(7440):193-8. doi: 10.1038/nature11968. Epub 2013 Mar 6. Link
Salk News Releases
- Some stem cell methods closer to "gold standard" than others, July 2, 2014
- Salk Institute and Stanford University to lead new $40 million stem cell genomics center, January 31, 2014
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- Are genes our destiny?, September 15, 2011
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- Salk scientist Joseph Ecker, appointed as Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Investigator, June 16, 2011
- Cell reprogramming leaves a "footprint" behind, February 2, 2011
- What drives our genes? Salk researchers map the first complete human epigenome, October 14, 2009
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Salk scientists discover how key plant hormone is triggered, February 10, 2009
- Not your grandfather's transcriptome-plant biologists discover unexpected proteins affecting small RNAs, May 15, 2008
- Charting the Epigenome, April 17, 2008
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- National Academy of Sciences honors Joe Ecker with Carty Award, January 25, 2007
- In a technical tour de force, Salk scientists take a global view of the epigenome, August 31, 2006
- Salk scientist Joe Ecker elected to National Academy of Sciences, April 25, 2006
- Gene Chip Study Could Lead to New Hybrid Plants, October 31, 2003
- Salk Study Advances Understanding of Plant Genes and Their Function, July 31, 2003
- First Plant Genome Sequenced: Salk Scientists Part Of International Effort, December 13, 2000
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