Plant Biologists, Microbiologist Elected to National Academy of Sciences
Three professors from the University of California, Davis, have been elected as members of the National Academy of Sciences. They are among 120 new members and 23 international members announced by the academy May 2. Members are elected in recognition of their contributions to original research. Membership in the academy is considered one of the highest honors a scientist can achieve.
The new members from UC Davis are: Andreas Bäumler, vice chair of research and professor at the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the UC Davis School of Medicine and College of Biological Sciences; Luca Comai, professor in the Department of Plant Biology, College of Biological Sciences and Genome Center; and Venkatesan Sundaresan, professor in the Department of Plant Biology, College of Biological Sciences, and Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Bäumler is a highly cited author of more than 200 papers. His groundbreaking research has focused on the role of intestinal epithelium in the composition of gut microbiota and its effects in infectious and inflammatory diseases. He was able to show that cellular respiration of the intestinal cells and their energy metabolism play an essential role in microflora composition and function. The research has tremendous significance for acute and chronic diseases and has provided completely new starting points for understanding the balance between microflora and the human body.
Bäumler studied microbiology at Ebehard-Karls Universität in Tübingen, Germany. He earned his doctorate studying iron uptake and iron‐regulated genes in Escherichia coli and Yersinia enterocolitica. He conducted postdoctoral research in microbiology at Oregon Health Sciences University from 1992 to 1996 and worked as assistant and associate professor at Texas A&M University Health Science Center from 1996 to 2005, when he joined the faculty at UC Davis. In 2021, Bäumler received the Robert Koch Prize for achievement in microbiology and immunology — one of the most prestigious awards in microbial science.
With experience in higher education as well as private industry, Comai has made significant contributions to the development of an herbicide-resistance trait that helped farmers significantly improve crop yields. The ongoing work of his lab is in functional genomics and genome analysis. He is especially interested in plants with unusual genomes, such as those with extra chromosome numbers, and methods of discovering mutations in plant genes. His research explores the mechanisms through which plants attain genome stability and the manipulation of the mechanisms that allow efficient genome engineering.
Comai is also a popular instructor. Using hand-drawn cartoon models, he illustrates critical concepts for his students in engaging, visual ways. He also produced a series of mini lecture videos, for which he wrote and drew in real-time while narrating. His @Genetics101 series has received nearly half a million views. For his innovative and engaging approach to teaching, Comai received a College of Biological Sciences faculty teaching award in 2017.
Comai earned a Ph.D. in plant pathology from UC Davis, where he also completed his postdoctoral research. He joined the faculty in 2006. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Sundaresan’s laboratory conducts research on plant reproduction as well as host-microbiome interactions in roots. Among many notable achievements in these fields, Sundaresan and colleagues discovered a method to produce clonal seeds directly from plants, bypassing the sexual reproduction process. He has also played integral roles in the elucidation of the structure and function of root microbiomes using rice as a model, leading to the identification of bacteria that may help promote drought tolerance. Collectively, his work on the biology of rice plants may eventually help lower the cost of hybrid rice seed, making high-yielding, drought resistant rice strains available to low-income farmers worldwide.
Sundaresan is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has held faculty appointments at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and at the National University of Singapore, where he was founding director of the Institute of Molecular Agrobiology. He has also served as a program director at the National Science Foundation of BREAD, a collaborative program with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to benefit agriculture in developing countries. He received his Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University.