Collmer to lead new School of Integrative Plant Science

Alan Collmer

He’s been an innovator in his field for 30 years. Now, Alan Collmer will help mold the future of plant sciences at Cornell as director of the new School of Integrative Plant Science.

Collmer, the Andrew J. and Grace B. Nichols Professor of Plant Pathology, will lead the integration of five departments – plant biology, horticulture, plant breeding and genetics, crop and soil sciences, and plant pathology and plant-microbe biology – into one administrative unit within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

Details about the new school will be revealed at an official launch June 6.

“Professor Collmer has been visionary and collaborative throughout his impressive scientific career,” said Jan Nyrop, a senior associate dean at CALS. “That vision and his determination to strengthen our talented plant science community will help us create an integrated unit that is nimble in responding to wider scientific trends and societal needs.”

Collmer said he hopes to unite the current plant science units in a way that will preserve their unique character and purpose.

“This is an exciting time to be working with plants, as revolutionary new tools are opening new avenues to discovery and application, with benefits ranging from healthier land to healthier people,” Collmer added.

An expert in bacterial virulence and protein secretion systems, Collmer received his doctorate from Cornell in 1981.

He spent a year as a postdoctoral associate in the Section of Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, where he cloned the first cellulase gene from a thermophilic actinomycete in the laboratory of David B. Wilson, and returned to Cornell as an associate professor of plant pathology in 1988.

An early adopter of new molecular technology and the developer of novel mutagenesis procedures that led to several important discoveries, Collmer led the team that sequenced the genome of Pseudomonas syringae, the microbe responsible for causing bacterial speck disease in tomato plants. The sequencing of the model organism’s 6.5 million DNA base pairs provided valuable insight into the pathogenesis of many other bacteria.

Collmer is a fellow of the American Phytopathological Society and the American Academy of Microbiology, and has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Bacteriology, Annual Review of Phytopathology, and Plant Cell; as an associate editor for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions; as panel manager for the USDA Competitive Grants Office; and as a board member of the International Society for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions.

Stacey Shackford is a staff writer at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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