IU biologist honored for pioneering work on genome evolution in plants

  • Dec. 3, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University biologist Jeffrey D. Palmer has been awarded the McClintock Prize for Plant Genetics and Genome Studies for his fundamental contributions to the understanding of genome structure, function and evolution.

A world-renowned expert on plant molecular evolution and phylogeny, Palmer is Distinguished Professor and Class of 1955 Professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology.

The prize, which recognizes scientific accomplishment over the course of a career, has been awarded annually since 2013 by the Maize Genetics Executive Committee, a professional organization for scientists and researchers working in the field of maize genetics. It is named in honor of Barbara McClintock, a distinguished geneticist and winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

"The MGEC is excited to award the McClintock prize to Dr. Palmer," said Nathan Springer, chair of the Maize Genetics Executive Committee and a professor of plant biology at the University of Minnesota. "His groundbreaking research on processes affecting genome structure, such as horizontal gene transfer and movement of genes from the mitochondrial genome to the nuclear genome, has provided novel understanding of genome processes in plants and exemplify the basic discoveries that we seek to recognize with the McClintock award. He is an extremely worthy recipient of this honor."

A member of the IU faculty since 1989, Palmer has made landmark discoveries spanning topics as diverse as plant phylogeny and the evolution of introns, segments of genes that are removed as part of the gene expression process. He has also contributed greatly to research on how genomes evolve and interact in eukaryotic cells.

Results from his lab have had a major impact on biologists' understanding of the origin of flowering plants, the origin of land plants from green algae and the origin of chloroplasts from cyanobacteria. His work also led to the discovery of the surprisingly close relationship between animals and fungi.

"Jeff has a long and stellar record of important discoveries at Indiana University, and this award is a fitting recognition for his tremendous contributions to the field of biology," said Clay Fuqua, professor and chair of the IU Bloomington Department of Biology. "I congratulate him heartily on this well-deserved prize, and for bringing another prestigious honor to his department and university."

"This is a wonderful and humbling honor, especially in light of the groundbreaking scientific contributions of the prize’s past recipients," Palmer added. He said that a conversation with the late IU professor Marcus Rhoades -- a pioneering researcher on maize genetics who was a close colleague and friend of McClintock's -- made a "huge impression that contributed to my decision to join the IU faculty."

In addition to the McClintock Prize, Palmer's honors include a Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1985, the international David Starr Jordan Prize in 1990, a Special Creativity grant extension from the National Science Foundation in 1991, the Wilhelmine Key Award from the American Genetics Association in 1998, election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999, election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 and election to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2006.

He has also been identified as one of the top 15 researchers worldwide in the field of plant and animal science by the Institute for Scientific Information and is the author of more than 200 research articles cited over 33,000 times. He holds a Ph.D. in biology from Stanford University and a bachelor's degree in biology from Swarthmore College.

Past recipients of the McClintock prize are Sir David Baulcombe, Royal Society Research Professor and Regius Professor of Botany at the University of Cambridge; and Sue Wessler, Campbell Presidential Chair for Innovation in Science Education at the University of California Riverside, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and home secretary for the National Academy of Sciences.

Palmer will receive the award and deliver a presentation at the Annual Maize Genetics Conference, March 17 to 20, in Jacksonville, Fla.

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