NAS cotton genomics researcher joins Department of Plant & Soil Science
By: George Watson
With its world-class facilities, knowledgeable faculty and collaborations with industry leaders, Texas Tech University has already earned a reputation as one of the world's leading research institutions when it comes to the genetics, production and processing of cotton.
That reputation was critical as Texas Tech has received a major grant from the State of Texas' Governor's University Research Initiative (GURI) that has allowed the university to bring in one of today's top cotton genomics researchers.
Luis Rafael Herrera-Estrella, who was elected as a Foreign Associate Member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2003, will join the Texas Tech's Department of Plant and Soil Science becoming the university's first NAS faculty member.
Herrera-Estrella joins Texas Tech thanks to a $5 million grant from GURI, which the university matched, in order to target one of the top plant molecular biologists in the world. Herrera-Estrella will build a team of scientists and develop an institute that examines how plants adapt to thrive in the presence of environmental stresses such as extreme heat and cold, drought and in the presence of brackish water sources.
"Agriculture represented a core area in the educational and research missions of Texas Tech when it was founded, and today our contributions in this area continue to gain national and international recognition," said Lawrence Schovanec, Texas Tech president. "Dr. Herrera's research in cotton genomics will further the profile of the university as a leader in cotton and agriculture research, while also contributing to the economic development of West Texas and the state."
Eric Hequet, the chairman of the Department of Plant and Soil Science who helped identify Herrera-Estrella as a prime candidate for this grant, said the institute will be composed of an initial cluster of five tenure-track faculty positions spanning the sub-disciplines of plant cell biology, developmental genetics, stress physiology and biochemistry, plant pathology and bioinformatics. It will form a research synergy on functional and comparative genomics of semi-arid crops and be supported by studies on genetic models.
"In addition to this new cluster of expertise, the Department of Plant and Soil Science has a well-established proficiency in various aspects of integrative plant stress biology, including plant epigenetics and epigenomics, cell wall biology, molecular plant breeding, quantitative genetics and phenomics," Hequet said. "This additional expertise reflects already established research programs at Texas Tech that are recognized nationally and internationally in their own rights. These existing programs will collaborate with the new institute to create a truly integrative and interdisciplinary research and graduate training platform in systems biology in the Department of Plant and Soil Science and across the Texas Tech campus."
Herrera-Estrella is known and respected worldwide for his work in cotton genomics, having earned the distinction in 2015 as one of the 100 most influential people in biotechnology by Scientific American. He previously served as the director and full professor of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (LANGEBIO) in Guanajuato, Mexico, where he will retain his position as a professor emeritus.
Herrera-Estrella's research focuses on the molecular mechanisms that allow plants to cope with a continuously changing environment. In particular, he has studied the two fundamental processes of molecular responses to light as a source of energy and a developmental signal, and nutrient availability. He was able to eventually identify DNA regulatory elements that allow plants to activate genes in response to light stimuli and the protein sequence present in many corresponding gene products that ultimately allow participation in the photosynthesis process.
Herrera-Estrella earned his doctoral and postdoctoral degrees in genetics from the State University of Ghent, Belgium. He received his master's degree in genetics and molecular biology from the Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional, and his bachelor's degree from Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Biológicas Instituto Politécnico Nacional.
CONTACT: Eric Hequet, Department Chair, Department of Plant and Soil Science, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2838 or email@example.com
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