Barbara Baker

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Primary Section: 25, Plant Biology
Secondary Section: 62, Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences
Membership Type: Member (elected 2021)


Barbara Baker is a plant molecular biologist recognized for her work on mechanisms of plant resistance to pathogens. She is known particularly for her isolation of the first plant disease resistance (R) gene, N, for Necrosis, which confers resistance to tobacco mosaic virus. Baker discovered one of the two classes of R-proteins and termed the domain characteristic of one class, TIR (for Toll-Interleukin1 receptor), which is structurally similar to a domain of animal innate immune receptors, now termed Toll-like receptors. Her studies led to work that revealed that R-gene structures and encoded receptors are conserved, recognize specific pathogen effectors, and trigger cell death associated resistance. R-gene conservation enabled the rapid identification and transfer of many R genes from evolutionarily dissimilar plants to crops.  Baker was born in Long Beach, California and grew up in Los Alamitos, CA. She graduated from University of California, San Diego with a degree in biology and from UC, San Francisco with a Ph.D. in Microbiology on Endogenous Avian Retroviruses with JM Bishop and H. Varmus. She was a postdoctoral fellow in plant molecular biology at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding, in Germany where she developed a transposon system using a maize transposon to isolate plant genes in different plant species. Baker is a Senior Scientist with the Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture and a member of the faculty of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley, in 1987.

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