January 25, 2007
La Jolla, CA – The National Academy of Sciences has selected Joseph R. Ecker, professor in the Plant Biology Laboratory and director of the Salk Institute Genomic Analysis Laboratory, to receive the 2007 John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science “for contributions in the areas of ethylene signal transduction and Arabidopsis genomics that have paved the way for a revolution in modern agriculture.”
Awarded annually for noteworthy and distinguished accomplishment in science, it was established by the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. in honor of John J. Carty and has been awarded since 1932. The honor includes a medal and a $25,000 prize that will be presented in Washington D.C. at the organization’s annual meeting April 29.
Ecker, who was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences last year, is internationally recognized for his pioneering contributions to plant 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. Arabidopsis is now widely considered one of the most important model organisms for the study of plant genetics and genomes thanks in large part to the genome project.
In addition, Ecker’s groundbreaking 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.
Most recently, Ecker and his team pioneered technological advances that allowed them to capture the genome-wide DNA methylation pattern of Arabidopsis in one big sweep. Methylation is chemical modification of one letter C (cytosine) of the four letters (A, G, C, and T) reiterated in our DNA. Adding a bulky methyl group to a C often blocks interaction with proteins required to activate gene expression, effectively silencing the methylated gene.
The ability to take a high-resolution snapshot of what genes are methylated and which ones aren’t during different developmental or disease states will have broad impact on the analysis of the human genome, stem cell biology and therapeutic cloning.
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
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to fundamental discoveries in the life sciences, the improvement of human health, and the training of future generations of researchers. Jonas Salk, M.D., whose polio vaccine all but eradicated the crippling disease poliomyelitis in 1955, opened the Institute in 1965 with a gift of land from the City of San Diego and the financial support of the March of Dimes.