Top plant scientist’s impact exceptional

Colleagues describe John Browse as simply one of the top plant biologists in the world.

Best known for identifying and cloning the desaturase gene in Arabidopsis, which is responsible for the synthesis of polyunsaturated fatty acids in plants, Browse has since been a leader in the effort to bioengineer crop plants to produce oils with increased levels of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Or, as he says, more simply yet, his research attempts “to improve the production of useful chemicals in plants.”

Selected as a 2006 Regents Professor, Browse, a biochemist with the Institute for Biological Chemistry, said he was both pleased and humbled by the honor.

“From my perspective, I’m delighted, of course, and a little bit surprised,” he said, adding that many of his colleagues are doing exceptional research and are as deserving of the honor as he is.

But others say Browse’s research is clearly exceptional.

“John Browse’s research has had one of the broadest impacts of any plant scientist I know,” said John Ohlrogge, a University Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University and long-time collaborator with Browse, most recently on the Oilseed Engineering Alliance.

Indeed, a database search turns up more than 4,000 citations of the nearly 150 articles Browse has written for some of the top journals in his field, including three in Science and 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He is listed by the Institute for Scientific Information as one of the most highly cited authors in the Plant and Animal Science category, recognition given to only the top 250 researchers in the field.

Still, Browse, who spent 10 years in scientific research in New Zealand before beginning his career as a university professor, said his greatest satisfaction is watching graduate students develop into independent scientists and researchers and set off on careers of their own.

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