PULLMAN, Wash. — Rodney Croteau, the Eisig-Tode Distinguished Professor of Forest Biotechnology at Washington State University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, has been named winner of WSU’s Eminent Faculty Award.
The $15,000 award was created at the request of WSU President V. Lane Rawlins to “honor career-long excellence within WSU’s superb academic community.” Croteau is the third recipient of the highest honor the university bestows on a faculty member.
Along with other 2003 award-winning faculty members, Croteau will be honored at 4 p.m., March 28 during the public Faculty Honors Convocation in Bryan Hall. Ralph Yount, School of Molecular Biology and chair of the Department of Chemistry, received the award in 2001. Don Dillman of the Social And Economic Sciences Research Center and the Thomas S. Foley Distinguished Professor of Government and Public Policy, received the honor in 2002.
Croteau has established an original and significant research program at the university. His research has been recognized in numerous ways, most notably by his election to the United States National Academy of Sciences and the receipt of two MERIT awards from the National Institutes of Health.
Croteau’s work on the biosynthesis of Taxol, an important anticancer drug, has brought his work to the public forefront. He currently serves on the editorial boards of four journals, and has served on proposal review panels at the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and the United States Department of Agriculture.
Croteau’s research has concentrated on terpenoids, an extraordinarily large group of compounds that play crucial roles in all organisms, including, plants, animals and bacteria. Several of the terpene essential oils are involved in plant protection. Some of these are also important flavors and fragrances. The mint industry sells the product of terpene biosynthesis. Spice shelves that contain sage, marjoram, lavender or lemon zest hint at the many culinary uses of terpenes.
Terpene resin acids protect growing trees from insect pests and fungal diseases and the volatile terpene fraction of the resin is distilled and sold as turpentine. Taxol is a complex modified terpenoid that, before discovery of its anticancer properties, was thought to be involved in protecting the Pacific yew from herbivores. Croteau’s laboratory has been the world leader in investigating the biosynthesis of taxol, and the knowledge gained will allow the improved production of this drug and its next generation of derivatives.
The award winner began his work at WSU in 1972 as a postdoctoral fellow and joined the faculty in 1974. One of the early faculty members of IBC, Croteau served as institute director from 1986-89.
He has won several major awards, including the Senior Faculty Award for Excellence in Research in 1990 and the 1992 Faculty Excellence Award for Research and Creative Activity.
Croteau has published well over 300 papers and received 15 patents, with several more pending. Some 40 students have earned graduate degrees working with him, and his nearly 100 former postdoctorals and students are in prestigious positions around the world. His laboratory at WSU employs more than 25 students, postdoctorals and a core group of technicians and scientific associates.
Croteau, a native of Springfield, Mass., earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He completed an NIH Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Oregon State University from 1970 to 1972.