Assmann invited to write review paper for international journal

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State University Waller Professor of Plant Biology and past President of the American Society of Plant Biologists Sarah M. Assmann is the invited author of the inaugural Coulter Review article to be published in the January issue of the International Journal of Plant Sciences. A world leader in the field of plant-cell signal transduction, Assmann studies plant genetics and how plants receive and respond to stimuli from the environment.

In the review paper, Assmann describes how an increasing human population presents new challenges to 21st-century agriculture, especially since such stresses as climate change and limited arable land can disrupt the ability of many food crops to flourish and to provide sufficient calories and nutrients. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Earth's population will reach 9 billion people by 2050. To meet the nutritional needs of this population, Assmann said, plant biologists must study how and why some plants are heartier and more capable than others of tolerating these stresses.

As a reference species, Assmann focused on a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, which is used widely in scientific studies of plant biology. She explained that this species, Arabidopsis thaliana, is an ideal study system in part because, since it is not a crop, it has not undergone a decrease in genetic diversity from domestication. This diversity, in turn, allows the plant to tolerate certain stresses associated with climate change and rising temperatures, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, drought, salinity, and mineral-ion limitation and toxicity. "Ideally, if we can understand better the genetic diversity of this species, we can begin to explore the possibility of related biotechnological manipulations within crop species," Assmann said. "Here we have a great opportunity to harness the genetic variation in Arabidopsis to improve crop productivity and ameliorate the effects of climate change on crop yield."

Assmann's service to the scientific community includes membership on the editorial boards of several scientific publications. She was a monitoring editor for Plant Physiology from 1994 to 1997 and she has been a co-editor for the Plant Cell since 1998, as well as serving on the Editorial Board of the Biochemical Journal since 2010. She is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Society of Plant Biologists.

Assmann was named professor in 1997 after joining the Penn State faculty as an associate professor in 1993. In 2001, she earned a Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement based on her research. Among her other awards and honors is a National Science Foundation POWRE (Professional Opportunities for Women in Research and Education) Award in 1999. She also served as the director of a Penn State summer science camp titled "Magical Life in the Muggle World," which used the theme of "herbology" from the Harry Potter books and movies to introduce plant biology to children in grades four through eight.

Prior to coming to Penn State, Assmann was an associate professor at Harvard University. She earned a doctoral degree in biology at Stanford University in 1986 and a bachelor's degree in biology, magna cum laude, at Williams College in 1980.

Contacts: 
Last Updated November 26, 2012