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André Jagendorf, pioneering plant biologist, dies at 90

André Jagendorf

André Tridon Jagendorf ’48, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor Emeritus in the Plant Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, died March 13 in Ithaca, New York. He was 90.

Jagendorf is best known for his research that provided direct evidence that chloroplasts synthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP) through the movement of hydrogen ions across membranes. (ATP is the molecule that supplies the energy to fuel metabolism on the cellular level.) Jagendorf was also a pioneer in many aspects of chloroplast molecular biology, including DNA repair mechanisms.

“By advancing our fundamental understanding of the inner workings of chloroplasts – the basic structures that plants use to convert sunlight into food, fuel and fiber – André provided us with deep insights into fundamental life processes,” said Karl Niklas, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Botany.

Jagendorf attended the Bronx High School of Science before matriculating at Cornell, where he earned a bachelor's in plant physiology in 1948. He completed his doctorate in biophysics at Yale University in 1951, and was a Merck Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles, before joining the faculty at Johns Hopkins University in 1953. He returned to Cornell as professor of plant physiology in 1966, and was named Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor in 1981. He continued daily laboratory work until just a few weeks before his death.

Jagendorf was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1980. Among other honors, he received the Charles F. Kettering Award and Charles Reid Barnes Life Membership Award from the American Society of Plant Physiologists, in addition to serving as the organization’s president. In 2007 he was named one of the first fellows of the American Society of Plant Biology, and in 2012 he received the Rebeiz Foundation for Basic Research Life Time Achievement Award for his contributions to the understanding of ATP biosynthesis. He also served as chair of the Section of Plant Biology in the former Division of Biological Sciences from 1990 to 1992.

Over the course of his career, Jagendorf collaborated with scores of other researchers and mentored many young scientists. In his retrospective paper, “Chance, luck and photosynthesis research: An inside story,” published in 1998, Jagendorf acknowledged “… the major contributions of graduate students and postdocs, and help from friends and colleagues. Without them I would have had no career at all.”

He is survived by his widow, Jean, two daughters, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Craig Cramer is communications specialist in the School of Integrative Plant Science.

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