MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory announces 2016 Anton Lang Research Excellence Award winners

Published April 11, 2016

Ian Major, Ph.D., an MSU postdoctoral research associate, and Li Zhang, an MSU plant biology graduate student, have had their names added to the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory annals as recipients of the 2016 Anton Lang Research Excellence Award during a special seminar that took place earlier this month.

The Anton Lang Memorial Fund was established in honor of the founding director of the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory, who died in 1996. In conjunction with the annual seminar, awards are made to a graduate student and a postdoctoral research associate who exemplify the research excellence, ideals, dedication and vision of Anton Lang.  The awardees receive a gift and a cash award, and their names are added to a permanent plaque located outside of the Anton Lang Conference Room.

Major and Zhang both focus their research on plant defense. Both scientists have directed their attention toward the jasmonate hormone, which plays a crucial role in activating plant defenses against insects.

Ian Major

Major, a postdoc hailing from Canada working in the lab of MSU Foundation Professor Gregg Howe, focuses on how the jasmonate hormone affects plant growth and energy capture. In one research project, Major and his collaborators found that, when under attack, the plant’s jasmonate signaling triggers rapid and persistent suppression of its own growth, but without a clear sustained effect on photosynthesis. This challenges the idea that plants attacked by insects repress their photosynthetic activity as part of their defense response, an idea that has been long taken for granted in plant biology circles. These results were published in Plant Physiology.

Li Zhang

Zhang, a plant biology Ph.D. candidate working in the lab of Professor and HHMI-GBMF Investigator Sheng Yang He, has focused on bacterial interaction with plants, specifically the pathogen Pseudomonas syringae. She was recently successful in engineering the jasmonate receptor that not only maintains appropriate resistance to insect herbivory, but also gained the ability to defend against bacterial pathogens that produce a jasmonate receptor-hijacking toxin. Zhang’s results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Anton Lang was the founding director of the PRL, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary last year, and we honor his legacy annually through a lecture and awards named after him,” said Christoph Benning, PRL director and MSU Foundation Professor. “In the spirit of Anton Lang, this year’s recipients represent outstanding examples for basic discoveries in molecular plant sciences with large potential impacts on agricultural fuel and food production. On behalf of all members of the PRL, I would like to congratulate again the awardees.”

Proceeds from the fund also support the Anton Lang Memorial Lecture – which was given this year by Julia Bailey-Serres, professor of genetics and director of the Center for Plant Cell Biology at the University of California, Riverside.