Harnessing Plants Initiative

Meet the Scientists

Salk Institute for Biological Studies - Harnessing Plants Initiative - Meet the Scientists

Meet the scientists

The Harnessing Plants Leadership Team:

Wolfgang Busch
Lab website
Professor, Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory
Hess Chair in Plant Science
HPI Executive Director

Busch takes a systems genetics approach to plant biology, combining genomics and other techniques to identify the genes governing root growth and increased suberin content. In a study published in 2019, the Busch lab identified a gene that regulates root depth. Finding this molecular switch is important proof that HPI is on the right track.

Joanne Chory
Lab website
Professor and Director, Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator
Howard H. and Maryam R. Newman Chair in Plant Biology
HPI Founding Director

With more than three decades in the field, Chory has pioneered genetic studies that illuminate how plants adjust their size, shape and form to optimize growth and photosynthesis. Her work has detailed the complex signaling networks that control plant growth and development in response to environmental change. She is leveraging this vast knowledge and experience to develop plants with increased root mass and other key traits. Chory was awarded the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for her pioneering work deciphering how plants optimize their growth, development and cellular structure to transform sunlight into chemical energy.

Joseph Ecker
Lab website
Professor, Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory
Director, Genomic Analysis Laboratory
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator
Salk International Council Chair in Genetics

Having led efforts to sequence the first plant genome and map the first plant epigenome, Ecker has long been a force in plant genomics/epigenomics. His work continues to help HPI improve carbon storing in plants. In 2019, Ecker’s group provided new insights into how gene editing affects plants, research that could make these techniques more precise.

Julie Law
Lab website
Associate Professor, Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory

The Law lab studies how epigenetic modifications translate into cellular activity. She is particularly focused on chromatin binding proteins, which play an important role in DNA packaging and gene expression. In tandem, Law is investigating the best ways to modulate the genes associated with suberin production.

Todd Michael
Lab website
Research Professor, Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory

Michael’s work combines genomic sequencing with computational biology to better understand the genomic distinctions that help different plants thrive in certain environments. By studying multiple genomes, Michael’s team seeks to clarify the genetic networks that govern how plants interact with their surroundings. The Michael lab is keenly focused on the genomics behind carbon sequestration and how plants adapt to climate change.

Lena Mueller
Lab website
Assistant Professor

Mueller is a plant biologist who studies the symbiotic relationship between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Her research reveals the basis for healthy plant symbiosis and can be applied to engineer crops that take up nutrients more efficiently, are more resilient to environmental stresses, and hold more carbon underground in their roots.

Joseph Noel
Professor and Director
Jack H. Skirball Center for Chemical Biology and Proteomics
Arthur and Julie Woodrow Chair

Noel studies the compounds plants produce to adapt to their environments. His work has illuminated the structure of suberin, the carbon-storing plant polymer that will be essential to HPI’s success. Because these molecules resist decomposition, and are packed with carbon atoms, they are excellent carbon storage mechanisms that enhance soil vitality.