PULLMAN, Wash.—Washington State University botanist Gerald Edwards won the Charles F. Kettering Award from the American Society of Plant Biologists for 2002. The award, which is bestowed every other year, recognizes excellence in the field of photosynthesis. Edwards was cited for his leadership in the field during his more than 30-year career.
Edwards’ selection for the award was due, in part, to a recent discovery he and two collaborators made about single cell, C4 photosynthesis. This work, which startled the scientific community, was described in the 29 November, 2001, issue of Nature magazine. With two collaborators, Edwards discovered a plant that carries out C4 photosynthesis in a single cell, a process that had previously been thought impossible. Photosynthesis, the process plants use to generate food from the energy in sunlight and carbon dioxide in the air, is more efficient in C4 plants, which have special features that allow them to capture extra C02. C4 photosynthesis had been thought to require two specialized cells sitting next two each other (a construction called Kranz anatomy)-one cell to collect the C02 and the other to condense and process the C02 into plant material.
“It was spelled out in concrete that for C4 photosynthesis to occur in higher plants you have to have this dual cell system-Kranz anatomy,” said Vince Franceschi, director of the WSU School of Biological Sciences and one of Edwards’ colleagues. However, Edwards’s group found plants that perform C4 photosynthesis in a single cell–in other words without Kranz anatomy.
Single-cell, C4 photosynthesis could help boost the productivity of world food crops, according to Edwards. Genetic engineers have been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to introduce the more efficient C4 photosynthesis into C3 photosynthesis crops such as wheat and rice. “Changing a C3 plant into a C4 plant may be simpler if the two different cell types seen in Kranz anatomy don’t need to be engineered,” said Edwards. “It may be easier to create the C4 process in a single cell.”
Creating C4 crops is made doubly advantageous because C4 plants are especially successful in areas that are arid or hot and in soils with high salt content. All conditions increasingly met in agricultural regions.
In further affirmation of the impact of his work, Edwards’ name was posted on the Institute for Scientific Information’s noteworthy listing of “Highly Cited Researchers.” Also on the list were WSU biochemist Clarence “Bud” Ryan, a fellow of the Institute for Biological Chemistry, and botanist Douglas Soltis, who completed 17 years of research and teaching at WSU prior to moving to University of Florida, Gainesville, in 2000. All three were mentioned in the ISI Plant and Animal Sciences category.
The ISI citation list is derived from data collected from millions of articles more than 40 years. “Citation is a key measure of influence in science and technology, because it is a highly informed interaction, according to ISI. “When one researcher refers to the work of another, they are, in essence, acknowledging the influence that work has had on their own. There is no better set of experts regarding ground-breaking work than the community of researchers in a field.”