Inside Salk - December 2011 - page 31

Joseph Ecker appointedHowardHughesMedical Institute
andGordonandBettyMoore Foundation investigator
Plant biologist Joseph R. Ecker,
professor in the Plant Molecular and Cellular
Biology Laboratory and director of the Genomic
Analysis Laboratory, has been selected as an
investigator of theHowardHughesMedical
Institute (HHMI) and the Gordon and Betty
Moore Foundation (GBMF), a collaboration
focusing on plant biology.
Only 15 investigators were selected from
the 239 plant scientists who applied for the
competition, chosen on the basis of individual
scientific excellence. With Ecker’s appoint-
ment, three plant biologists at the Salk hold
HHMI appointments.
Ecker is internationally recognized for his
pioneering contributions to plant genomics.
Early on, he advocated for themapping and
sequencing of the genome of the tinymustard
weed Arabidopsis thaliana and directedmuch
of the sequencing project. Commonly known as
thale cress, Arabidopsis was the first flowering
plant to have its entire genome unlocked and is
nowwidely considered one of themost important
model organisms for the study of plant genetics
and genomes.
“Without Joe’s groundbreaking contributions,
Arabidopsis would be just another weed,” says
HowardHughesMedical Institute investigator
Joanne Chory
, professor and director of the
Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory
and holder of theHowardH. andMaryamR.
Newman Chair in Plant Biology. As Chory has
stated, “The study of plant genomes might
contributemore to human health andwell-
being than the study of any animal genome.
I am delighted for Joe because he has almost
singlehandedly made Arabidopsis the model
of choice for plant functional genomics studies,
owing to his vision, his generosity to the com-
munity, and his great enthusiasm for solving
problems of scale.”
In the last few years, Ecker’s laboratory has
started to zero in on genomic methylation
patterns, which are essential for normal
development and associatedwith a number of
key cellular processes, including carcinogenesis.
After perfecting his high-throughput method of
mapping the precise position of these individual
DNAmodifications throughout the genome
in Arabidopsis, Ecker is now applying the
technological innovations and analytical tools
he developed in plants to work on disease-related
problems in humans.
“Joe Ecker is highly deserving of this
recognition, which is reserved for a select group
of extraordinary scientists,” said Salk president
William R. Brody
. “HHMI and GBMF have
made a boldmove into plant biology. This
enhanced focus and appreciation for plant
biology has the potential to help us understand
and find solutions to critical issues of world
hunger, human health, and environmental
Without Joe’s groundbreaking contributions,
Arabidopsis would be just another weed.
– Joanne Chory
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