Plant-Disease Discoveries Lead to Award for
Albany Scientist By
February 7, 2001
BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 23Discoveries about genes
that help plants fend off attack from microbial enemies have garnered a top
scientific award for Barbara J. Baker of the USDAs Agricultural Research Service and
University of California at Berkeley.
Baker has been named Outstanding Senior Scientist of the
Year for the ARS Pacific West Region, which encompasses California and
seven other western states. She is based at the
Plant Gene Expression Center in Albany,
which is jointly operated by ARS and the University.
Dr. Bakers pioneering investigations have revealed,
for the first time, important details about the way genes defend plants against
powerful pathogens, said ARS Administrator Floyd P. Horn at Beltsville,
Md. Her work paves the way for increasing the effectiveness of these
genes and perhaps moving them into plants that today lack effective defenses.
That could reduce the need for pesticides.
Baker received a plaque, cash award, and additional funds for
her research Horn during a ceremony earlier thismonth at the agencys
Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.)
Agricultural Research Center, Beltsville. She has been a research plant
molecular geneticist with ARS at Albany and an associate adjunct professor of
plant biology at the university since 1987.
This award also acknowledges Dr. Bakers key role in
expanding and refining the use of jumping genes--or transposons--as invaluable
tools for ferreting out other genes and for revealing the role those genes
perform inside plants, Horn said.
Baker currently leads an investigation to uncover genes in
potato that will protect the crop against late blight, the disease responsible
for the Irish potato famine of the mid-1800s and the deaths of 1.5 million
people from starvation. The spread of other strains of the Phytophthora
infestans microbe that causes the disease has resulted in a worldwide
resurgence of this disease during the past three decades, according to Horn.
Baker holds a $5.3-million grant from the National Science Foundation for this
Bakers findings have been published in Science,
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and other leading
research journals. She has received two patents for her work and an Honor Award
from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
She received her bachelors degree in biology in 1974 from
the University of California, San Diego, and a doctorate in microbiology in
1981 from the University of California, San Francisco.
Scientific contact: Barbara J. Baker, USDA-ARS and
University of Calif. Plant Gene Expression
Center, Albany, Calif.; phone (510) 559-5912, fax (510) 559-5678,