Caltech Plant Biologist Receives Genetics Prize

Elliot Meyerowitz is a recipient of the 2018 Gruber Genetics Prize.

Elliot Meyerowitz, George W. Beadle Professor of Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, is a recipient of the 2018 Gruber Genetics Prize from the Gruber Foundation. The Yale-based Gruber International Prize Program annually honors individuals whose research "inspires and enables fundamental shifts in knowledge and culture."

This year's prize is shared with Joanne Chory of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. According to the award citation, "these two renowned scientists are receiving this prestigious prize for their groundbreaking work in identifying the basic regulatory and biochemical mechanisms underlying the development of plants. Their discoveries revolutionized the field of plant molecular biology, with broad implications for global agriculture, the environment, and human health and disease."

Meyerowitz studies the mechanisms of plant development, particularly in the model system Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant. The Meyerowitz laboratory was one of the first to establish this plant as a model for plant genetics, genomics, and developmental biology, and over the years has developed the current molecular model for organ specification in flower development, and for stem cell maintenance during growth of the plant shoot. Studying this model system has enabled control over the timing and formation of flowers, a major breakthrough in helping to increase the yield of food crops. 

The laboratory was also the first to establish the developmental role played by plant peptide hormones and their receptors, and determined the molecular nature of a plant hormone receptor for the stress and ripening hormone ethylene. Their current experiments are directed to understanding the interplay of chemical and mechanical signaling between plant cells, and to developing computational models of plant patterning and growth, a field that they have named computational morphodynamics.

"I'm pleased that this award has been given for work in plant biology, which is of central importance to human health and nutrition," says Meyerowitz. "I am especially honored to be sharing it with Joanne Chory, whose work and leadership are a model for all scientists."

A member of the Caltech faculty since 1980, Meyerowitz also served as the chair of the Division of Biology (now renamed the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering) from 2000 to 2010.

Written by Lori Dajose