AgriLife researcher receives National Science Foundation CAREER grant

COLLEGE STATION —  Dr. Ping He, a biochemist with Texas A&M AgriLife Research in College Station, has been awarded more than $1 million from the National Science Foundation to further his studies on how a host plant defends against pathogen attacks.

The award was made under the science foundation’s CAREER program which is given to “support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

He is also an assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics with a lab at Texas A&M University’s Institute for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology.

Dr. Ping He (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kathleen Phillips)

Dr. Ping He (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kathleen Phillips)

“Plants have a robust immune system,” He said. “We use biochemical and genetic approaches to understand the pathways the plant uses to fight back the pathogen attack.”

He’s team developed a “sensitive genetic screen” in the ongoing attempt to understand the molecular signaling network that helps plants adapt and survive in their environment. They call the series of mutants selected in his lab AGGIE, a nickname for the university’s students but also an acronym for Arabidopsis genes governing immune (gene) expression.

The award, which will extend over five years, is expected to help He and others find the genetic components for plant immune response which ultimately could help plant breeders develop varieties with more resistance to disease, he said.

Because his research is basic, however, He said results may also have implications for other organisms such as human immunity to disease.

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