Dan Voytas is a plant geneticist who is recognized for his contributions to the field of gene editing and its applications to plant biology and agriculture. Voytas helped develop a highly programmable gene editing reagent – Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases (TALENs) – which proved effective in making targeted modifications to diverse eukaryotic genomes. Voytas was born in Oregon, and prior to college, lived in Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Hampshire. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1984 with an AB in biology. In 1990, he received his PhD in genetics with Fred Ausubel at Harvard Medical School, and he conducted postdoctoral research with Jef Boeke at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. There he was a fellow of the Life Science Research Foundation. In 1992, Voytas joined the faculty at Iowa State University and advanced through the academic ranks, becoming a full professor in 2001. In 2008, he joined the University of Minnesota’s Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, and from 2008 to 2018, he directed the University’s Center for Genome Engineering. In 2018 Voytas was named a Distinguished McKnight University Professor and was appointed the founding Director of the Center for Precision Plant Genomics. Voytas is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Research Interests

Dr. Voytas' research concerns targeted mutagenesis. His early career focused on understanding mechanisms of retrotransposon target specificity. In baker's yeast, Voytas discovered a retrotransposon called Ty5 that specifically integrates into telomeric heterochromatin. His lab subsequently determined that Ty5 target specificity is due to interactions between Ty5 integrase and a protein component of telomeric heterochromatin. Beginning in 2000, Voytas' research transitioned to creating targeted modifications in plant genomes using sequence specific nucleases. He showed that efficient gene editing -be it mutagenesis or gene replacement- could be achieved by creating targeted DNA double strand breaks in plant genomes with sequence-specific nucleases such as zinc finger nucleases. His lab developed the Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases (TALENs), which proved highly programmable and efficient reagents for gene editing. Current research focuses on overcoming bottlenecks to achieve efficient gene editing in plants, including the use of viral vectors for reagent delivery and methods that obviate the need for tissue culture in creating edited plants.

Membership Type


Election Year


Primary Section

Section 62: Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences

Secondary Section

Section 26: Genetics