Dean DellaPenna is a plant biochemist recognized for his basic research on plant nutritional genomics, which seeks to understand and manipulate the synthesis and accumulation of plant compounds essential for human health. He is best known for his work on vitamin E, provitamin A carotenoids and other essential dietary micronutrients, which has helped lay the intellectual foundation for addressing micronutrient deficiencies in plant-based diets on a global scale. DellaPenna was born in Steubenville, Ohio and grew up in the nearby town of Wintersville. After high school he worked for two years in a steel mill before attending Ohio University, Athens, Ohio where in 1984 he graduated with a BS in Botanical Cellular Biology. He received his Ph.D. in Plant Physiology from the University of California, Davis in 1987 and was a postdoctoral researcher at Washington State University, Pullman, Washington. In 1990 he became a faculty member in the Plant Sciences Department at the University of Arizona, Tucson, moved in 1996 to the Biochemistry Department at the University of Nevada, Reno and since 2000 has been a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

Research Interests

Dean DellaPenna's laboratory works at the interface of plant biochemistry and human health, focusing on the biosynthesis of nutritionally important micronutrients in plants. His group integrates genomics, genetics, evolution and biochemistry to dissect and engineer these pathways in plants. The laboratory's work on carotenoid biosynthesis defined much of the pathway in plants, provided important insights into the evolution and regulation of the pathway and the surprising structural and functional plasticity of carotenoids in plant photosystems. The laboratory's dissection of plant tocopherol (vitamin E) synthesis revealed surprising ways in which tocopherols contribute to plant growth and stress tolerance. Metabolic engineering of the tocopherol pathway to increase the vitamin E activity of plant tissues was an early example of the power of Nutritional Genomics to impact micronutrient deficiencies in plant-based diets. More recent efforts employ large analytical and genotype datasets, quantitative genetics and comparative genome wide association mapping in maize and Arabidopsis to define the genetic architecture underlying natural variation for carotenoids, tocopherols and B-vitamins in seeds to provide the foundational knowledge needed for increasing and balancing the levels of these essential micronutrients in the plant-based, global food supply.

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Primary Section

Section 62: Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences

Secondary Section

Section 25: Plant Biology