UA Molecular Biologist/Geneticist Elected to National Academy of Sciences

May 2, 2002

Vicki Chandler, a University of Arizona molecular biologist and geneticist known for her pioneering work in clarifying the mechanisms of gene regulation in maize, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences on April 30.

"Vicki is an exceptional scientist who helped Arizona set a new standard of excellence in plant molecular biology when she elected to join our faculty in 1997," said Eugene Sander, vice provost and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Her findings are contributing to deeper understanding of the way plants grow, develop and evolve.

Election to membership in the Academy is considered one of the highest honors a U.S. scientist or engineer can achieve. Chandler was among 72 new members and 15 foreign associates from 12 countries recognized for distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Those elected this year bring the total number of active members to 1,907. Chandler is the 25th member of the NAS in Arizona and the 19th at the UA.

"Vicki is an outstanding choice for this honor, because not only does she do important research in genetics, she also is an excellent teacher of both undergraduate and graduate students, and a caring University citizen," said Robert Leonard, head of the department of plant sciences.

Chandler has spent 17 years studying the mechanisms that turn genes on and off in maize. She uses methods based on molecular genetics and classical Mendelian genetics to figure out how genes regulate one another when they communicate in the nucleus of the cell.

In particular, she has focused on epigenetic, or nontraditional control of gene expression in plants. This is a natural occurrence where heredity is somehow controlled not through the usual DNA sequence, but through proteins that interact with the sequence to reversibly silence genes. As a graduate student, Chandler read about this phenomenon and became fascinated by the gene regulation systems in corn.

"I love studying this and I won't quit until I figure it out," she says. "We've developed the tools to crack this during my lifetime." Her findings are contributing to a better understanding of plant physiology, development and evolution that has practical applications in agriculture and in biology.

"Dr. Chandler is a preeminent scientist in her field," said Colin Kaltenbach, director of the Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "This an appropriate honor for her, and it represents significant recognition for both Dr. Chandler and the University of Arizona."

Chandler holds a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of California, San Francisco (1983). She was a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the department of biology at Stanford University from 1983-1985. From 1985-1997 she moved through the professorial ranks in the department and the Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

In 1997 she continued her work at the UA, where she is a professor in the department of plant sciences, a member of the Interdisciplinary Program in Genetics, and has a joint appointment in the department of molecular and cellular biology. She was recently appointed associate director of the newly formed Institute for Biomedical Science and Biotechnology (IBSB) at the UA. In addition to her research, Chandler teaches advanced genetics courses for graduate students.

"I have top-notch people in my lab," Chandler said, "a lot of great students. And I have had three exceptional professors as mentors along the way: Keith Yamamoto at UC San Francisco, Virginia Walbot at Stanford University and Randy Schekman at UC Berkeley. All have been very influential in my training as a scientist."

Among Chandler's numerous affiliations, she is on the board of trustees for the Gordon Research Conferences (1997-2003) and is past chair of that board. She is currently president of the American Society of Plant Biology and is active in the Genetics Society and International Society of Plant Biology where she served on the board of directors. She is also on the Biological Directorate Advisory Committee for the National Science Foundation.

Her awards include the 1983-1985 NSF Plant Biology Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1985-90 Presidential Young Investigator Award Recipient, 1988-91 Searle Scholar Award and the 1991-1996 NSF Faculty Award for Women Scientists and Engineers.

The NAS is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for science and the general welfare. Established by a Congressional Act of Incorporation signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the Academy acts as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.

Additional information about the National Academy of Sciences is available online.

A full directory of NAS members can be found online.