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John C. Walker Appointed MU Curators’ Professor

Sept. 2, 2014

j-walkerThe University of Missouri Board of Curators recently appointed John C. Walker, director of the Division of Biological Sciences, as a Curators’ Professor. The appointment is awarded to faculty in recognition of exceptional research accomplishments and service to the university.

Walker has earned an international reputation for his research on plant growth and development. One of his seminal contributions was the pioneering discovery of a novel protein receptor in plants. Receptors play a key role in initiating a cascade of cellular processes that control numerous biological responses. He followed up on this breakthrough by discovering that plants contain an unexpectedly large number of these receptors, which established a new view about how plants respond to and integrate developmental and environmental queues.

Subsequent studies from the Walker laboratory helped to further elucidate the cascade of proteins that comprise the receptor-mediated signaling pathway in plants. These studies led to additional novel discoveries. Walker and colleagues discovered and established that a conserved protein motif, called the forkhead-association domain, is a phosphoprotein interaction domain that mediates many important regulatory interactions from plants to humans. His group also identified a co-receptor that is central to hormonal signaling and innate immunity in plants. Walker also contributed to the findings that several developmental processes rely on receptor signaling, including plant architecture, stomata patterning, and, most recently, organ abscission.

“John’s discoveries inaugurated an explosion of research devoted to receptor protein kinases in plants,” wrote Professor G. Eric Schaller of Dartmouth University in a letter supporting his nomination for the Curators’ Professorship. “His body of research helped launch and continues to define a scientific field.”

In 2004, Walker was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for “pioneering the field of receptor-like kinases in plants.” He is also recipient of an MU Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Faculty Research and Creative Activity in the Biological Sciences and an Excellence Award from the university’s Interdisciplinary Plant Group.

Walker is also credited with helping to establish the Symposium on Plant Protein Phosphorylation, which hosted its 13th international meeting in May 2014. The symposium has become an important forum for seasoned and new researchers to meet and exchange ideas, methods, and information.

“This [symposium] has had a tremendous impact in the field and contributed to the rapid pace of advancement in plant signaling,” wrote Professor Joseph Kieber of the North Carolina University in his letter of support of Walker’s nomination.

Walker joined the MU faculty in the Division of Biological Sciences in 1987, was promoted to professor in 1998, and was appointed director in 2011. Since 2013, he also has served as project director of Missouri EPSCoR, a statewide research program that aims to stimulate Missouri’s capacity and competitiveness in science, technology, and engineering. He previously served as director of the Charles W. Gehrke Proteomics Center, associate scientific director of the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center, and director of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group. He also was instrumental in securing funds for and in the design of the Ernie and Lottie Sears Plant Growth Facility and the Charles W. Gerhke Proteomics Center on the MU campus.

The appointment is effective September 1.

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Written by: Melody Kroll

Related research strengths:
Genetics & Genomics, Molecular Biology, Plant Biology
Related categories:
Awards