Deborah P. Delmer

University of California, Davis


Election Year: 2004
Primary Section: 62, Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences
Secondary Section: 25, Plant Biology
Membership Type: Member

Biosketch

BA degree with honors in Bacteriology,1963, Indiana University; PhD in Cell Biology, 1968, University of California San Diego; Faculty positions at Michigan State University, The Hebrew University, and the University of California Davis where she also served as Chair of the Section of Plant Biology. Together with colleagues at Calgene, Inc., Delmer’s group was the first to identify plant homologs of bacterial genes that encode the catalytic subunit of the cellulose synthase, and much of her later research focused on the role of this gene family in cellulose synthesis in plants. Awarded The Anselme Payen Award in recognition of excellence in the science and chemical technology of cellulose from ACS, 2004. President of the American Society of Plant Biologists, 1999. Associate Director for Food Security for the Rockefeller Foundation, 2002-2007, grant making related to the role of biotechnology in developing world agriculture. Now retired, Delmer now serves on a number of advisory boards and consultant to foundations, academia, industry, and governments on developing world agriculture issues surrounding biomass production. Program Director for BREAD (2009-2010) jointly funded by the US NSF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Currently member of Governing Board and Chair Program Committee of ICRISAT.

Research Interests

My research has focused on the biosynthesis of the rigid walls that surround the cells of higher plants. Special emphasis was placed on the biosynthesis of cellulose, a major component of the plant cell wall and the world's most abundant organic compound. Cellulose is a polymer comprised of many units of the simple sugar glucose, and, although relatively simple in structure, it has been proven difficult to isolate and characterize the enzymes responsible for its synthesis. My laboratory was the first to isolate and characterize a gene from plants that encodes the catalytic subunit of the cellulose synthase, the enzyme responsible for glucan chain polymerization. We've also contributed to the understanding of the biochemistry of the process, most recently by showing that sterol glucosides can serve as primers for cellulose synthesis and by studying the mode of action of herbicides that inhibit the process. Since 2002, I've taken up a new challenge that uses my scientific talents in a very different way by working for The Rockefeller Foundation's Food Security Program. In this new effort, I help set the Foundation's strategy for the effective use of biotechnology in support of their programs for crop improvement in the developing world.

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