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Plant-Disease Discoveries Lead to Award for Albany Scientist / February 7, 2001 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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National news release

Barbara J. Baker


Plant-Disease Discoveries Lead to Award for Albany Scientist

By Marcia Wood
February 7, 2001

BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 23—Discoveries about genes that help plants fend off attack from microbial enemies have garnered a top scientific award for Barbara J. Baker of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and University of California at Berkeley.

Baker has been named “Outstanding Senior Scientist of the Year” for the ARS Pacific West Region, which encompasses California and seven other western states. She is based at the Plant Gene Expression Center in Albany, which is jointly operated by ARS and the University.

“Dr. Baker’s pioneering investigations have revealed, for the first time, important details about the way genes defend plants against powerful pathogens,” said ARS Administrator Floyd P. Horn at Beltsville, Md. “Her work paves the way for increasing the effectiveness of these genes and perhaps moving them into plants that today lack effective defenses. That could reduce the need for pesticides.”

Baker received a plaque, cash award, and additional funds for her research Horn during a ceremony earlier thismonth at the agency’s Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center, Beltsville. She has been a research plant molecular geneticist with ARS at Albany and an associate adjunct professor of plant biology at the university since 1987.

“This award also acknowledges Dr. Baker’s key role in expanding and refining the use of jumping genes--or transposons--as invaluable tools for ferreting out other genes and for revealing the role those genes perform inside plants,” Horn said.

Baker currently leads an investigation to uncover genes in potato that will protect the crop against late blight, the disease responsible for the Irish potato famine of the mid-1800s and the deaths of 1.5 million people from starvation. The spread of other strains of the Phytophthora infestans microbe that causes the disease has resulted in a worldwide resurgence of this disease during the past three decades, according to Horn. Baker holds a $5.3-million grant from the National Science Foundation for this research.

Baker’s findings have been published in Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and other leading research journals. She has received two patents for her work and an Honor Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

She received her bachelor’s degree in biology in 1974 from the University of California, San Diego, and a doctorate in microbiology in 1981 from the University of California, San Francisco.

Scientific contact: Barbara J. Baker, USDA-ARS and University of Calif. Plant Gene Expression Center, Albany, Calif.; phone (510) 559-5912, fax (510) 559-5678,

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