Plant Researchers and Molecular Biologist Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Savithramma P. Dinesh-Kumar, Walter S. Leal and Richard Michelmore
Savithramma P. Dinesh-Kumar, Walter S. Leal and Richard Michelmore have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Three professors from the University of California, Davis, have been elected as members of the National Academy of Sciences. They are among 120 new members and 24 international members announced by the academy April 30

Members are elected in recognition of their contributions to original research. Membership in the academy is considered one of the highest honors a scientist can achieve.

The new members from UC Davis are: Savithramma P. Dinesh-Kumar, professor and chair in the Department of Plant Biology; Walter S. Leal, distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology; and Richard Michelmore, distinguished professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and founding director emeritus of the Genome Center.

Savithramma P. Dinesh-Kumar

Department of Plant Biology, College of Biological Sciences

Savithramma P. Dinesh-Kumar
Savithramma P. Dinesh-Kumar

Dinesh-Kumar is widely recognized for his contributions in plant immunity research as well as his innovative technological advances. His research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of how plants defend against pathogens and how pathogens counter plants’ defense arsenals. He also studies how autophagy (self-eating) functions as a central cellular process during immunity and how organelles such as chloroplasts communicate with the nucleus during defense. His work on virus-based gene editing holds promise for modifying plant genomes without the need for genetic transformation and plant regeneration for better traits and disease resistance. Collectively, Dinesh-Kumar's research has deepened our understanding of complex plant defense strategies, and contributed to strategies that may help develop crops that are resilient against environmental challenges and diseases. Dinesh-Kumar is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and recipient of the Noel Keen Award for Research Excellence in Molecular Plant Pathology from American Phytopathological Society.

Walter S. Leal

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, College of Biological Sciences

Walter Leal
Walter S. Leal

Leal is known for his groundbreaking research on insect olfaction and chemical communication, which has yielded 20 book chapters and more than 220 peer-reviewed papers. His laboratory identified the first adult mosquito receptor for the insect repellent DEET; isolated, cloned, and expressed the first moth's pheromone-degrading enzymes; and has made numerous contributions to our understanding of insect olfaction. By identifying sex pheromones from dozens of insect species, Leal’s work has helped save agricultural industries affected by certain pest species millions of dollars. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the California Academy of Sciences, and a corresponding member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. He is also a trustee of the Royal Entomological Society, the 13-member council that governs the 190-year-old international organization. In 2024, he became the first UC Davis faculty member to receive all three of the Academic Senate’s faculty awards, celebrating outstanding teaching, public service, and research. He has served as the chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology. 

Richard Michelmore

Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Richard Michelmore
Richard Michelmore

Michelmore’s research portfolio is rooted in the comparative and functional genomics of disease resistance in Arabidopsis, tomato, and lettuce. His study of these species has been foundational for understanding how plants defend themselves against pathogens and how resistance genes evolve over time, as well as for developing strategies to enhance disease resistance in crop plants. Michelmore's research includes both wet lab and computational methods for the analysis of complex genomic data. His multidisciplinary approach combines molecular, genetic, and evolutionary perspectives to exploit genomic information of plants and pathogens for the deployment of resistance genes in crop plants, with the goal of providing more durable disease resistance. He has published over 200 scientific papers, reflecting his extensive contributions to the field, which have had far-reaching practical implications for agriculture, particularly in enhancing crop resilience and productivity in the face of disease challenges. For his efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide fast, effective and free testing for the campus and surrounding areas, Michelmore received the 2020-21 Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award from the UC Davis Academic Senate. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the founding director emeritus of the UC Davis Genome Center (2003 – 2024).  

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National Academy of Sciences Elects Members and International Members (news release)

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