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Duke Named Outstanding Senior Scientist by USDA Research Agency / February 7, 2001 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Chemist Agnes Rimando and plant physiologist Stephen Duke determine essential oil content of wormwood leaves . Link to photo information


Duke Named Outstanding Senior Scientist by USDA Research Agency

By Hank Becker
February 7, 2001

OXFORD, Miss., Feb. 7--Plant physiologist Stephen O. Duke has been named an “Outstanding Senior Research Scientist of 2000" by the Agricultural Research Service, chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Duke is research leader of the Natural Products Utilization Research Unit operated by ARS at the University of Mississippi-Oxford.

"Dr. Duke is being honored for his outstanding performance and leadership in fundamental plant physiology studies in support of weed science and natural products research," said ARS Administrator Floyd P. Horn. "His research has had significant impact in several fields of plant research.”

Horn will present plaques to Duke and 15 other ARS scientists at a 1 p.m. ceremony Feb. 7 at the agency's Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center. Honorees will also receive cash awards and additional research funding. Duke is the outstanding senior scientist of the year for ARS' Mid South Area, which includes laboratories in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Duke’s most significant accomplishments have focused on understanding how phytotoxins work. Phytotoxins are toxins produced naturally by plants and microbes that act as natural herbicides. Few scientists active in this research area have discovered even one new molecular site of action of a phytotoxin. Duke has discovered six such sites and provided crucial new information on how these and many other phytotoxins function.

This information has been important to those scientists interested in the natural resistance of crops to herbicides and phytotoxins, crop/pathogen interactions and biosynthetic pathways in plants.

By applying his broad knowledge of plant pathology and taking novel research approaches, Duke has used a group of methods--or developed new ones--to elucidate the mode of action of phytotoxins.

For example, his studies of tentoxin’s mechanism of action required him to develop a wide variety of approaches, including various new in vivo spectrophotometic techniques. His versatility has allowed him to successfully explain the mode of action of phytotoxins affecting a broad range of plant biochemical processes including several important plant functions, like synthesis of amino acids, and others that are important for chloroplast development.

Besides his innovative research, Duke has been an outstanding leader in mentoring doctoral, post-doctoral and high school students in his research unit. These young scientists have assisted in searching the plant and microbial kingdoms for pest- fighters that work in harmony with the environment. While Duke served as director of ARS’ Southern Weed Science Laboratory, Stoneville, Miss., four of that lab’s nine scientists won either the agency’s Mid South “Scientist of the Year” or “Early Career Scientist of the Year” awards. Since the fall of 1996, he has planned, organized and staffed the Oxford lab.

During his 25-year career with ARS, Duke wrote or co-authored more than 230 publications, including articles in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters. He has been an invited speaker at many international meetings and has received numerous research grants and awards, as well as several USDA certificates of merit.

He is a member of several professional societies--past president of the Weed Science Society of America, an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and current president of the International Weed Science Society.

Born in Battle Creek, Mich., Duke spent his childhood in Arkadelphia, Ark. He received his B.S. in biology at Henderson State University at Arkadelphia, his M.S. in botany at the University of Arkansas, and Ph.D. in plant physiology from Duke University.

Scientific contact: Stephen O. Duke, USDA-ARS Natural Products Utilization Research Unit, National Center for the Development of Natural Products, Room 1012, University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS 38677; phone (662) 232- 1036, fax (662) 232-7062,

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