Tree molecular geneticist receives Black Award for Research Excellence

March 29, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- John Carlson, professor of molecular genetics in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, has been chosen to receive the 2011-12 Alex and Jessie C. Black Award for Excellence in Research.

The honor, which includes a $1,500 cash award and a plaque, recognizes significant accomplishments in agricultural research at Penn State.

Carlson is director of the endowed Schatz Center for Tree Molecular Genetics in the college's School of Forest Resources, where he studies the molecular genetics of forest trees and develops new approaches and resources for genetic linkage mapping and conservation genetics.

"John Carlson has established the Schatz Center as a pre-eminent university research center in tree molecular genetics and biotechnology," said Gary Thompson, the college's associate dean for research and graduate education. "He is having a particularly important impact at the national and international levels on the molecular genetics of optimizing woody biomass for energy and in addressing forest health issues."

Carlson's research group has developed and characterized gene-sequence databases, DNA markers, DNA libraries and genetic linkage maps for numerous economically and environmentally important forest tree species, including Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, white spruce, western hemlock, black cherry, northern red oak, white oak, American chestnut, Chinese chestnut and yellow poplar.

In a current $3.7 million project funded by the National Science Foundation, Carlson and colleagues are extending these genomic resources and tools to other Eastern hardwood forest trees such as black walnut, honeylocust, blackgum, sugar maple, green ash and sweetgum.

Carlson played a key role in the poplar genome sequencing initiative that culminated in the first complete genome for a tree species. He currently is leading major national and international research projects to sequence the genomes of Chinese chestnut and the biofuel crop camelina.

Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, Carlson received his bachelor's degree in biochemistry from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974, his master's in plant physiology and agronomy from the University of Illinois in 1978, and his doctorate in genetics from the University of Illinois in 1983. After receiving post-doctoral training in the Department of Plant Pathology at Kansas State University, he served as a research scientist with the biotechnology company Allelix Inc. in Toronto from 1983 to 1988.

From 1988 to 1997, Carlson was a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, where he helped to pioneer research in the field of molecular genetics of forest trees. He joined the Penn State faculty in 1997.

Carlson has served on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms, the American Chestnut Foundation's Science Advisory Committee, the International Poplar Genome Consortium Steering Committee and Genome Canada's International Science Review Committee. He currently is editor for three journals: Trees -- Structure and Function, Frontiers in Plant Biotechnology, and Forest Science and Technology.

Carlson's research has resulted in more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles. During his time at Penn State, he has been awarded 39 competitive state and federal grants -- 22 as principle investigator -- totaling more than $10 million in external funding.

He has held visiting professorships at Chonnam National University in South Korea, at Northeastern Forestry University in Harbin, China, at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and at Peking University. He also has mentored 27 graduate students, 21 postdoctoral scholars and 22 undergraduate research thesis projects.

  • John Carlson, professor of molecular genetics in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated January 09, 2015