Joan Wennstrom Bennett is a fungal geneticist who did pioneering work on the clustered genes involved in the biosynthesis of fungal secondary metabolites, especially mycotoxins. Currently a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Plant Biology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ, for over thirty years she previously was a faculty member at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. During her years at Tulane, Joan was awarded the Newcomb College Mortarboard Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1975; elected Honors Professor of the Year in 1991, and was recognized as Outstanding Faculty Fellow of Newcomb College in 2006. The American Society for Microbiology recognized her focus on educational excellence with the Carksi Teaching Award in 2001. Throughout her career, Joan has had taken a special interest in the advancement of women and minorities in science. Professor Bennett is a past president of both the Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology (2001-2002) and the American Society for Microbiology (1990-1991). She is a past co-editor-in-chief of Advances in Applied Microbiology and past editor-in-chief of Mycologia , and is an honorary Professor of the Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Science (Beijing, China).

Research Interests

The Bennett laboratory studies the genetics and physiology of filamentous fungi. In addition to mycotoxins and secondary metabolites, the focus is on the volatile organic compounds emitted by fungi. These low molecular weight compounds are responsible for the familiar odors associated with the growth of molds and mushrooms. Some of them function as semiochemicals for insects while others serve as developmental signals for fungi. The Bennett lab has tested individual fungal VOCs in model systems, with the intent of providing a physiological basis for the hypothesis that volatile mold metabolites might be involved in "sick building syndrome." For example, 1-octen-3-ol ("mushroom alcohol") functions as a neurotoxin in Drosophila melanogaster and causes growth retardation in Arabidopsis thaliana. In other studies, we have demonstrated that living cultures of Trichoderma, a known biocontrol fungus, can enhance plant growth in the absence of physical contact between the plant and the fungus. In addition to her laboratory research, Joan is active in efforts that involve diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially with respect to women in science, engineering, and medicine.

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Primary Section

Section 61: Animal, Nutritional, and Applied Microbial Sciences

Secondary Section

Section 44: Microbial Biology