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HHMI and GBMF Name 15 ASPB Members as Investigators

Posted By Adam Fagen, Thursday, June 16, 2011

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NEWS FROM ASPB

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 16, 2011

CONTACT: Adam Fagen, Public Affairs Director

afagen@aspb.org, (301) 296-0898 (office)


HHMI and GBMF Name 15 ASPB Members as Investigators

Recipients will share $75 million in flexible support for plant science research


ROCKVILLE, Md. -- Two of the nation’s largest private sponsors of research have taken a giant leap into plant science. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF) have named 15 of the country’s most innovative plant scientists as HHMI-GBMF Investigators. These 15 plant scientists—all of whom are members of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB)—will share $75 million in flexible support from HHMI and GBMF over the next five years.

The two organizations formed their collaboration because of concerns that basic plant science research has been historically underfunded in the United States. HHMI President Robert Tjian explained that "we think the creation of our joint program underscores the importance of investing in fundamental plant science, and we hope it will encourage others in the United States to make analogous commitments.”

Vicki L. Chandler, a former ASPB president who is GBMF chief program officer for science, said that the sponsors "believe the research will generate high-impact discoveries with implications for a range of intertwined concerns facing society: food production, human health, protection of the environment, and identification of renewable energy resources.” With plant science at the center of so many contemporary national and international priorities, HHMI and GBMF felt that the time was right to make strategic investments to fuel discoveries that have a major impact.

The new HHMI-GBMF Investigators were selected on the basis of individual scientific excellence from a group of 239 applicants. HHMI is known for supporting "people, not projects,” investing in visionary researchers rather than specific projects. Each HHMI-GBMF Investigator will receive an initial five-year appointment to HHMI, beginning in September 2011, and the support to develop their research in creative, new directions. Investigators will continue to be based at their host institution and retain their faculty position, but HHMI will provide full salary and benefits to the investigators with research support coming from both HHMI and GBMF.

These plant scientists recognize the freedom this award gives them to follow the science wherever it leads. "It gives me the opportunity to think broadly in what needs to be done in my field and go after it,” said Jorge Dubcovsky of the University of California, Davis, "rather than spending my time trying to write proposals…The HHMI and GBMF long-term support gives me a lot of flexibility to address important questions.”

Dominique Bergmann of Stanford University, who will deliver the Shull Award lecture at ASPB’s Plant Biology 2011 meeting in Minneapolis this August, emphasized that she can do experiments that her lab has only discussed informally, "but none of us thought we’d get the chance to do.” Krishna Niyogi of the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said he appreciates that "HHMI and GBMF are recognizing the importance of plant science and enabling research that would likely be considered too ‘high-risk’ by most grant panels.”

The investigators are committed to demonstrating the value of this investment in plant science. Jeff Dangl of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explained that "to whom much is given, much is expected. We have a responsibility to make the most of this wonderful opportunity and to leverage our success across our community.” Bergmann added that the "effect of the [HHMI-GBMF Investigator] positions will go far beyond the 15 who got them.”

Joe Ecker of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies said that the HHMI-GBMF Investigator program "sends a strong message that plants are a really great system of study and that knowledge of plant functions have in the past—and will continue to—contribute to fundamental knowledge on many levels.”

These new HHMI-GBMF Investigators will join nearly 340 existing HHMI Investigators, of whom 13 have received Nobel Prizes and more than 140 have been elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences. The HHMI-GBMF Investigators will be eligible for additional five-year terms after a successful scientific review.

Those selected as HHMI-GBMF Investigators are Philip Benfey (Duke University), Dominique Bergmann (Stanford University), Simon Chan (University of California, Davis), Xuemei Chen (University of California, Riverside), Jeff Dangl (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Xinnian Dong (Duke University), Jorge Dubcovsky (University of California, Davis), Joseph Ecker (Salk Institute for Biological Studies), Mark Estelle (University of California, San Diego), Sheng Yang He (Michigan State University), Robert Martienssen (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory), Elliot Meyerowitz (California Institute of Technology), Krishna Niyogi (University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), Craig Pikaard (Indiana University Bloomington), and Keiko Torii (University of Washington).

Three other plant scientists—each of whom is an ASPB member—currently serve as HHMI Investigators: Joanne Chory (Salk Institute for Biological Studies), Joseph P. Noel (Salk Institute), and Steve Jacobsen (University of California, Los Angeles).

A full list of the HHMI-GBMF Investigators and a description of their research areas is available at http://bit.ly/HHMI-GBMF_bios.

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ASPB is a professional scientific society, headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, devoted to the advancement of the plant sciences worldwide. With a membership of nearly 5,000 plant scientists from throughout the United States and more than 50 other nations, the Society publishes two of the most widely cited plant science journals: The Plant Cell and Plant Physiology. For more information about ASPB, please visit http://www.aspb.org/. Also follow ASPB on Facebook at facebook.com/myASPB and on Twitter @ASPB.



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