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Early Career Award Comes "Naturally" to ARS Scientist / February 13, 2002 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Early Career Award Comes "Naturally" to ARS Scientist

By Amy Spillman
February 13, 2002

OXFORD, Miss., Feb. 13--Franck Dayan, a plant physiologist with the Agricultural Research Service, has won an Early Career Research Scientist Award from the federal research agency and will be honored in a ceremony today at the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

Dayan is based at ARS’ Natural Products Utilization Research Unit, Oxford, Miss., where he and his colleagues work to find potential new agricultural uses for chemicals naturally present in plants and other organisms. In the seven years he has worked for USDA, Dayan has been involved in the discovery of several important potential applications of natural products.

One of his most notable achievements has been discovering a new mechanism of action for herbicides. The enzyme asparagine synthetase plays an important role in plant development, and Dayan demonstrated that it is a suitable target site for herbicides. He and his colleagues also demonstrated that it is highly sensitive to certain monoterpene cineoles, common components in the essential oils of aromatic plants such as eucalyptus. This research could possibly lead to new, natural products-derived herbicides, and it has sparked great interest in the scientific community.

Dayan’s most recent accomplishment involves the discovery of a chemical found in lichen that is a potent inhibitor of hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase, another enzyme necessary for plant development. This enzyme is already a target site for certain synthetic herbicides; Dayan’s work illustrates the potential of using a naturally derived product to bring about the same result.

He is a co-inventor on a patent for an inexpensive method of deriving an anti-cancer drug from a commonly available plant. The drug is currently derived from the roots of an endangered species found in the Himalayas.

“Dr. Dayan is an exceptional early career scientist,” said Edward B. Knipling, ARS acting administrator. “He has provided considerable leadership in his research planning activities with postdoctoral and visiting scientists, and both ARS and university scientists seek him out as a collaborator and reviewer. His work is of the highest quality and has already made an impact.”

The “early career” award is given to ARS scientists who have made outstanding scientific contributions, have been with the agency seven years or less, and completed their highest academic degree within the past 10 years. Dayan is the “early career” winner for the agency’s Mid South Area, which includes Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Dayan’s citation is for “outstanding research in support of development of natural products for pest management.” Knipling will present Dayan with a plaque and a cash award at the Feb. 13 ceremony. Dayan will also receive $10,000 in research support.

Dayan is a member of the Weed Science Society of America and the Phytochemical Society of North America. He received his Ph.D. in plant physiology from Auburn University in 1995, and he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from Stephen F. Austin State University in 1988 and 1992, respectively. He lives in Oxford, Miss.

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Last Modified: 2/13/2002