Joachim Messing

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick

Election Year: 2015
Primary Section: 61, Animal, Nutritional, and Applied Microbial Sciences
Secondary Section: 26, Genetics
Membership Type: Member


Joachim Messing is a biologist recognized for work in genomics and biotechnology. The shotgun DNA sequencing method and the M13mp/pUC/JM cloning kits made him the most frequently cited scientist in the world for the eighties. Messing made his innovations freely available, ensuring rapid advances in all life sciences. He helped creating the field of plant genomics with a focus on raising the nutritional quality of food. Messing was born in Duisburg, Germany, in 1946, studied Pharmacy at the Free University of Berlin, and received his doctorate degree from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Biochemistry. After studies at the University of California at San Francisco and Davis, he rose through the faculty ranks at the University of Minnesota before becoming a University Professor of Molecular Biology at Rutgers and then the Director of the Waksman Institute of Microbiology, where he holds also the Waksman Chair in Molecular Genetics. He was winner of the 2013 Wolf Prize in Agriculture and the 2014 Promega Biotechnology Award. Messing, a Fellow of the American Association of the Advancement in Science and the American Academy of Microbiology, is a member of both the US and the German National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

In 1974, I conceived a method for sequencing DNA fragments in parallel by cloning, which is the basis for sequencing chromosomes and transcripts of all living organisms. Implementation of this concept required the development of a single-stranded cloning vector, a polycloning site, and a visible detection system for cloned DNA. Parallel sequencing was first applied to whole-genome sequencing with a plant virus as a test case. When oligonucleotide synthesis became automated, we also transferred the cloning system to a plasmid vector, which allowed us to select a high-copy number replicon and use of paired-end sequencing. Because sequencing and engineering of eukaryotic DNA needed biosafety containment, I also developed the JM series of host strains. The cloning system was critical for the early biotechnology industry to express foreign proteins in heterologous cells, as I made it available to everybody without restrictions. This could then be used to develop drugs like Epogen and the first transgenic plants. Because one can separate now single DNA molecules without cloning the concept of parallel sequencing has even become more widely used due to automation and enhanced computing power. My laboratory has used these concepts and reagents to study the dynamics of plant genomes and genes that are critical to our nutrition and food supply.

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