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Cosgrove awarded the inaugural Masatoshi Nei Innovation Prize in Biology

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03 November 2016

Daniel Cosgrove
Daniel Cosgrove
Daniel Cosgrove, professor and Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Biology at Penn State University, has been awarded the inaugural Masatoshi Nei Innovation Prize in Biology. Cosgrove was presented with the prize and gave a lecture titled “Rethinking the structure of the growing plant cell wall and molecular mechanisms of cell wall loosening” at a reception held on October 11, 2016. The award was established through a generous gift from Masatoshi Nei, Emeritus Professor of Biology at Penn State and Laura Carnell Professor of Biology at Temple University. The prize is intended to recognize a preeminent scientist who is on the faculty at Penn State, is an innovator in their field, and has achieved outstanding scientific research and leadership in the biological sciences. The selection committee unanimously decided that Cosgrove was the most deserving faculty member for this inaugural award.

“Not only is Dan a giant within plant biology,” said Tracy Lankilde, professor and head of the Department of Biology at Penn State, “but his research has made important contributions to the broader field of biology. His work on cell wall loosening mechanisms has led to the discovery of analogous genes in cellulose-feeding organisms or their symbionts, fueling new and exciting research directions in biology.”

Cosgrove is widely recognized as having made an enormous impact on the field of plant cell growth by determining the biochemistry, biophysics, and genetics of wall loosening in plant cells. He broke the field open in 1992 with the discovery of expansins -- wall loosening proteins -- and he continues to push this field forward. In the early 1980s he pioneered the use of the pressure microprobe to evaluate hydraulic constraints on cell enlargement. This work led to theoretical and experimental analyses of cell-wall stress relaxation as the key biophysical process controlling cell enlargement. His group was the first to isolate expansin proteins that allow the cell walls of plants to grow while maintaining their rigidity. This discovery spawned a new area of biological research. Cosgrove and his colleagues subsequently determined that plants have many expansin genes with diverse roles.

Daniel Cosgrove and Tracy Lankilde
Daniel Cosgrove and Tracy Lankilde
Cosgrove's lab is currently focused on the developmental, structural, and evolutionary aspects of the expansin-gene superfamily. By isolating and characterizing the genes that control expression of expansins in the cell, his lab is helping to explain how plants control their growth under a variety of conditions and how they adapt to environmental stresses. He established the Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation, a multi-institutional Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Cosgrove's research accomplishments have received numerous awards and honors, including his election as a Fellow of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) in 2007. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2005 and to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1993. He also received the Alexander von Humboldt Research Award and the Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Life Sciences in 1996, the Charles A. Shull Award for Outstanding Investigations in Plant Physiology in 1991, the Fulbright Senior Professor Award and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 1989, and the McKnight Foundation Award in 1986.

Cosgrove’s publications include over 150 peer-reviewed publications and 30 book chapters, as well as other publications. He is an Institute for Scientific Information Highly Cited Researcher and is a Faculty of 1000 Member. He also has 7 awarded patents. He has trained 17 graduate students and 18 postdoctoral associates. Cosgrove served as president of ASPB from 2000 to 2001 and as chairman of the board of the ASPB Educational Foundation in 2002 and 2003. He was a councilor of the American Society for Photobiology from 1986 to 1988 and served on the governing board of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology from 1993 to 1995.

He has been a reviewer for Science, Nature, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Plant Molecular Biology, Plant Physiology, Plant Cell, the Canadian Journal of Botany, Plant Science Letters, the Journal of Theoretical Biology, the Journal of Experimental Botany, the American Journal of Botany, and the International Journal of Plant Sciences, as well as several other professional journals.

Cosgrove joined the Penn State faculty as an assistant professor of biology in 1983. He was promoted to associate professor in 1987 and to professor in 1991, and was named Distinguished Professor in 2000. In 2001, he was named Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Biology. He has been a visiting professor in Germany at the University of Göttingen and at the Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology. He earned his doctoral degree in biological sciences at Stanford University in 1980 and his bachelor's degree in botany at the University of Massachusetts in 1974.

Masatoshi Nei was Evan Pugh Professor of Biology from 1994 to 2015 and director of the Institute for Molecular Evolutionary Genetics from 1990 to 2015 at Penn State. He constructed a mathematical theory for studying the evolutionary relationships of different species using molecular data. A statistic named for him, Nei's genetic distance, is a cornerstone of population genetics analyses. This measure makes it possible to estimate the origins of populations and the times of their divergence from common ancestors. Nei applied this technique to human populations and obtained the first evidence pointing to the African origins of modern humans. His influential paper on the "neighbor-joining" method of constructing phylogenetic trees is one of the most highly cited papers in the entire field of biology. Nei and his group have also written and distributed software packages, including MEGA for molecular evolutionary genetics analysis, which is the most widely used software for phylogenetic analysis at present.

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