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Featured Profile: Walter Gassmann

Walter Gassmann

University of Missouri scientist Dr. Walter Gassmann investigates how plants sense and transmit signals to fight disease.

Gassmann studies the detailed ways in which various plants fight disease by developing a better understanding of the plant immune system of the model plant, Arabidopsis — the first plant to be fully genetically sequenced. Funded by the National Science Foundation, he is examining the intricacies of the plant’s regulatory system. Plants have more than one line of defense, and understanding all levels will help inform scientists working to develop more vigorous crops. “It’s so important to understand how the signaling actually works,” says Gassmann, “because once we understand the network, then we can tweak it to make it more robust and more efficient.”

Insights from Arabidopsis are very often applicable to plants of economic value.  By working with Arabidopsis and grapevine, Gassmann discovered that a common grapevine pathogen called powdery mildew works by “tricking” the plant into diverting resources toward the fungus rather than the grapes. This knowledge could be used to genetically modify grapevines to keep the character of the wine intact while fighting this pathogen.

In recognition of his outstanding contributions to plant pathology, in 2016 Gassmann was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Walter Gassmann is a member of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group, a researcher in the Bond Life Sciences Center and a professor in the Division of Plant Sciences within the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

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Related Initiative(s):
Food for the Future