UNT taps two renowned plant science researchers for cluster

Plant science researchers
Newly hired plant biologists Ron Mittler (right) and Vladimir Shulaev (center) discuss the configuration of their shared lab space with Sean Garman, architect for Perkin+Will.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Two internationally renowned researchers in the field of plant science will join the University of North Texas, bringing decades of experience and a wealth of technical expertise to one of the university's most prominent areas of research.

The professors -- Vladimir Shulaev of Virginia Tech and Ron Mittler of the University of Nevada-Reno -- will be part of UNT's Signaling Mechanisms in Plants Cluster, a team of researchers who collaborate to improve the understanding of cellular communication in plants to find solutions related to energy, agriculture, nutrition and medicine.

Shulaev and Mittler will begin at UNT this fall as professors of biology and be supported by state-of-the-art laboratories housed in the new Life Sciences Complex, which is scheduled to open this summer.

"These researchers will form a cornerstone for attracting leading scientists focused on understanding the molecular basis of plant signaling processes," said Kent Chapman, cluster coordinator and professor of biology. "They bring to UNT technical expertise that will expand and strengthen the university's research portfolio."

The two professors bring the total number of plant signaling cluster researchers to seven, including one who works at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla., a leading research group in this field. The cluster plans to add two more researchers in the coming year.

Wendy K. Wilkins, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the research clusters are signaling success for UNT because they are attracting prominent faculty who are drawn to a vibrant, growing university.

"Making significant investments in our faculty and research programs is one of the driving forces of UNT's quest to become a Tier One, or national research university," Wilkins said. "Bringing in faculty who stand out in their field will go a long way toward taking us to the next level because they come with expertise, strong research funding and role model potential for our junior faculty."

Vish Prasad, UNT's vice president for research and economic development, said it is rare to find two researchers whose work touches on so many different areas, including nutrition, medicine and agriculture. Shulaev and Mittler have previously worked together on various projects, he said, which will add to UNT's collaborative research atmosphere.

"By working with each other at the same university, their collaborations may reach new heights and engage UNT faculty in plant science and expand existing relationships with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation," he said. "These combined efforts will help build a world-class research program in plant biology focused on metabolomics."

Metabolomics involves the global analysis of all cellular metabolites, which are small-molecule products of the chemical processes that occur in living organisms.


About the researchers

Vladimir Shulaev

Shulaev is a professor in the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech. With nearly 30 years of experience in metabolomic biochemistry and plant biology, Shulaev's research is at the cutting edge of a wide range of important scientific developments, including crop protection, cancer treatments and nutrition. Among his accomplishments, Shulaev is credited with helping to identify salicylic acid as a new plant hormone involved in plant immunity. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Shulaev has been an investigator on research projects totaling about $9 million.

"UNT's commitment to science and the interactive, collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the research is what drew me to the university," Shulaev said. "This is how we will create a world-class program in plant signaling involving new, modern technologies."

Ron Mittler

Mittler is an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nevada-Reno with more than 20 years of experience in plant physiology, biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology. His research aims to enhance the tolerance of plants to different environmental conditions, such as drought, salinity and temperature stress, which cause tens of billions of dollars in crop losses each year. Mittler has been an investigator on research projects totaling about $8 million.

"UNT is entering an exciting stage in its development and could potentially become one of the leading research institutes in plant signaling in the country," Mittler said. "I was highly impressed with the commitment, dedication and motivation of the higher administration and faculty to this mission. I feel that if this trend will continue there is a great future for UNT. It is the commitment and the potential for me to collaborate and conduct research in such a positive environment that attracted me to UNT."


About the Signaling Mechanisms in Plant Cluster

The cluster draws upon existing expertise and emerging research strengths in cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, metabolomics and informatics to study how plants use cellular communication, a complex network of molecular signals, in their growth, development and defense responses to stress. Understanding these signaling processes can help regulate crop yield and resistance to pathogens, insects and other adverse environmental conditions. Manipulating signaling mechanisms in plants also will lead to new technologies in agriculture, human nutrition, phytoremediation of environmental toxicants and sustainable energy.


About UNT's research clusters

The research clusters are collaborative, cross-disciplinary teams comprised of leading researchers, faculty, students and institutions engaged in research to find solutions to some of today's most pressing problems. By investing in diverse expertise and cutting-edge technologies within an interdisciplinary framework, UNT promotes creative, competitive methodologies that will transform applications across sciences and humanities. For more information, go to http://research.unt.edu/clusterpositions.htm.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108