National Academy of Sciences elects noted UO biologist

Green plant in sun

University of Oregon biologist Alice Barkan, whose research has fueled advances in understanding how plants capture and process sunlight, has been elected into the National Academy of Sciences.

She was among 120 U.S. scientists and 26 international researchers chosen for their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Alice Barkan“I was deeply honored by the news,” said Barkan, a professor in the Department of Biology and member of the Institute of Molecular Biology, “and enormously grateful to my colleagues in the institute for fostering a collegial and stimulating research environment that encourages pushing boundaries in creative ways.”

Barkan studies genes that orchestrate the assembly of the chloroplast, the part of plant cells that consumes carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and produces oxygen and carbohydrates via photosynthesis.

Much of her research has focused on a small set of genes found inside the chloroplast and separate from those in the cell’s nucleus. Barkan and her lab members have shown how genes in the chloroplast and nucleus cooperate to produce the photosynthetic apparatus and to maintain its function.

Their insights into molecular mechanisms underlying the expression of chloroplast genes have led to new approaches to control gene expression, advancing efforts to improve agronomic traits, which include desirable components such as yield, plant height and nutrient content. Such work has applications in the production of pharmaceuticals and other practical compounds.

Her laboratory also has generated thousands of valuable genetic stocks of maize that are shared as a public resource with other plant biologists throughout the world.

Barkan is among 10 active or retired UO members of the National Academy of Sciences, which now has 2,403 active members and 501 international members. International members are nonvoting members of the academy, with citizenship outside the United States.

The academy is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.