K-State's Subbaratnam Muthukrishnan and Barbara Valent named AAAS Fellows

October 25, 2007

MANHATTAN, KAN. -- Kansas State University faculty Subbaratnam Muthukrishnan, university distinguished professor of biochemistry, and Barbara Valent, university distinguished professor of plant pathology, have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. They and the other 469 fellows will be announced in the Oct. 26 issue of the journal Science and will receive a certificate and pin at the association's annual meeting in February 2008 in Boston.

K-State now has 15 fellows of the association, representing the fields of biology, chemical engineering, plant pathology, biochemistry, grain sciences and industry, geography, agronomy and physics.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science named Muthukrishnan a fellow for his contributions to plant and insect molecular biology, particularly for studies on plant pathogenesis proteins and insect chitin metabolism. His laboratories examine the organization and functions of genes involved in the synthesis and turnover of the chitin in the exoskeleton of the red flour beetle. Muthukrishnan holds a patent on the use of a chitinase-based biopesticide, and he and his collaborators have developed varieties of crop plants and other plants more resistant to pests and disease.

Muthukrishnan and his associates at K-State have cloned several genes involved in plant defenses against fungal pathogens and insect pests, scoring several firsts in plant and insect gene cloning. In 2005 Muthukrishnan was part of a K-State research team that identified several enzymes involved in the synthesis, turnover and hardening of a beetle's exoskeleton. The discovery could not only lead to better pest control, but it also could help create similar strong, lightweight materials for use in aircraft and armor. Muthukrishnan is a recipient of the 2006 Commerce Bank Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award. He also received a William L. Stamey Award for Excellence in Teaching from K-State's College of Arts and Sciences.

Valent has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her contributions in the understanding of plant-microbe interactions, particularly in defining the mechanisms of fungal pathogenesis. She pioneered and developed rice blast disease as an easily manipulated model system to understand how plants and fungi interact to lead to disease or resistance. She was first to clone and study both fungus and rice genes that determine the outcome of this interaction. Valent is applying functional genomics and advanced cell biology techniques to analyze the earliest disease events in which the fungus is able to take over and control living rice cells. Her research centers on improving key cereal crops, such as rice and wheat, for durable resistance to fungal diseases.

Valent had a productive research career with the DuPont Company culminating in the position of research fellow and technical leader for their Genetic Disease Resistance Program. She joined K-State as a professor of plant pathology in 2001 and was named university distinguished professor in 2002. She previously served on the board of trustees for the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia. Valent was recently named a Fellow of the American Phytopathological Society. She holds three patents, including one with other scientists for a glue purified from the rice blast fungus.
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Kansas State University

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