Salk Professor Joanne Chory honored with Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science

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Salk Professor Joanne Chory honored with Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Joanne Chory has been selected by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to receive a Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science for her achievements in plant science. She will receive a 14-karat gold medal and a $10,000 honorarium at the Franklin Institute Awards Ceremony in April 2024. Chory joins other extraordinary scientists and engineers as a Franklin laureate, including Nikola Tesla, Marie and Pierre Curie, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Jane Goodall, among others.

“Joanne’s contributions to the field of plant biology have impacted and will continue to impact scientists around the world,” says Salk President Gerald Joyce. “This prestigious award is a testament to her unwavering dedication and the enduring impact of her research on the future of science and our planet.”

Joanne Chory
Joanne Chory
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Credit: Salk Institute

Chory is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the director of Salk’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory, holds the Howard H. and Maryam R. Newman Chair in Plant Biology, and is the founding director of Salk’s Harnessing Plants Initiative.

She has spent more than 30 years using Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering mustard plant, as a model for plant growth. She uses molecular genetics to study how plants alter their size, shape, and form to optimize growth and photosynthesis for particular environments. She pioneered the application of molecular genetics to plant biology and transformed our understanding of photosynthesis. Her research now focuses on better understanding how plants’ natural ability to capture and store carbon can be optimized to slow climate change.

Chory has made many notable discoveries throughout her prolific career. For example, she mapped the entire plant steroid hormone signaling system and defined a new paradigm for steroid perception that is distinct from that in humans. She also found that more than 90 percent of the approximately 30,000 A. thaliana genes peak in expression at a particular time of day, which changes with the seasons—a discovery that is relevant for farmers and their agricultural yields. She identified the mechanism by which a shaded plant can outgrow its neighbor, since dense planting by farmers leads to a major loss of yield. More recently, Chory defined how defensive carnivorous plant hormones are produced, a finding that could help scientists develop plants that survive harsher conditions.

As the founding director of the Harnessing Plants Initiative, Chory works to develop and scale up production of Salk Ideal Plants®, which capture atmospheric carbon and store it in broader and deeper roots rich in molecules such as suberin. By enhancing plants’ natural ability to capture and retain carbon, the team is helping to mitigate climate change, enhance soil quality, and improve crop yields.

“Celebrating its 200th year in 2024, The Franklin Institute Awards Program is among the oldest and most prestigious science and technology awards programs in the world,” said Larry Dubinski, president and CEO of The Franklin Institute. “We are honored to present Professor Chory with the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science for her groundbreaking contributions to plant science, and we look forward to celebrating our 2024 laureates’ outstanding achievements in science, technology, and industry this April.”

Chory also received the 2020 Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, and a 2018 Gruber Genetics Prize. She is a member of nine scientific academies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Royal Society. She was also invited to give a TED talk in 2019 where she shared the importance of the Harnessing Plants Initiative’s mission to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide.

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Unlocking the secrets of life itself is the driving force behind the Salk Institute. Our team of world-class, award-winning scientists pushes the boundaries of knowledge in areas such as neuroscience, cancer research, aging, immunobiology, plant biology, computational biology and more. Founded by Jonas Salk, developer of the first safe and effective polio vaccine, the Institute is an independent, nonprofit research organization and architectural landmark: small by choice, intimate by nature, and fearless in the face of any challenge.