UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Joseph Ecker, investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor and Salk International Council Chair in Genetics at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, will present the 2017 John M. Chemerda Lectures in Science on April 24 and 25 on the Penn State University Park campus. The free public lectures are sponsored by the Penn State Eberly College of Science.
Ecker will give a public lecture intended for a general audience titled, “Beyond the Genome: Unlocking the Secrets of Epigenetics,” at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 25, in Berg Auditorium, 100 Life Sciences Building. A reception will follow in the Verne Willaman Gateway to the Sciences, the bridge connecting the Life Sciences Building to the Chemistry Building.
Ecker will also present two lectures of a more technical nature in the Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library: “Deconstructing the Plant Regulatory Genome: Enabling Technologies” at 2 p.m. on Monday, April 24, and “Epigenomic Signatures of Neuronal Diversity in the Mammalian Brain” at noon on Tuesday, April 25.
Ecker contributed to the mapping and sequencing of the first plant genome. To investigate the relationship between an organism’s DNA and its observable characteristics, his research group has since sequenced the genomes of thousands of individuals of the flowering plant species Arabidopsis thaliana — the most commonly used model organism in plant biology. However, the DNA sequence is not the only factor that determines the traits of an organism. Ecker’s group has also pioneered large-scale studies of epigenetics — chemical modifications that change gene expression and contribute to inherited observable differences between individuals. Ecker developed a method to map epigenetic marks on cells that he has used to identify differences between brain cell types and to better understand disorders such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Ecker was chosen as the Research Leader of the Year in Agriculture by Scientific American in 2004, and research from his laboratory determining the first human DNA methylomes using stem cells was ranked the No. 2 Scientific Discovery of the Year by Time Magazine in 2009. In 2011, an article about his research was included in Discover Magazine’s "Top 100 Science Stories," and his work was included in Popular Science’s "Top 10 Health Innovations of 2010." In 2016, he was named to the 2015 list of “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” by Thomson Reuters.
Ecker has been the recipient of many awards, including the Kumho Science International Award in Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in 2001, the International Plant Growth Substances Association Distinguished Research Award in 2004, the American Society for Plant Molecular Biology Martin Gibbs Medal in 2005, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science in 2007, and the Genetics Society of America George W. Beadle Award in 2011. He was elected to the US National Academy of Science in 2006 and was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015.
Ecker earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at the College of New Jersey in 1978 and a doctoral degree in microbiology from the Penn State College of Medicine in 1982. He completed a postdoctoral position at the Stanford University School of Medicine before joining the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania in 1987. In 2000, Ecker joined the Salk Institute for the Biological Sciences, where he is currently a professor of plant biology, the director for the Genomic Analysis Laboratory, and the co-director for the Center for Excellence for Stem Cell Genomics. In 2001, he joined the faculty at the University of California at San Diego and, in 2011, he was selected as an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The John M. Chemerda Lectures in Science are named in honor of John M. Chemerda, a chemist who earned his bachelor's degree at Penn State in 1935. For more information about the lectures or for access assistance, contact the Department of Biology at 814-863-0278.