Scientist Recognized for Service, Academics

May 31, 2011

Sakis Theologis, Plant Gene Expression Center

From American Socity of Plant Biologists

This award honors the Reverend Stephen Hales for his pioneering work in plant biology published in his 1727 book Vegetable Staticks. It is a monetary award established in 1927 for a scientist, whether or not a member of the Society, who has served the science of plant biology in some noteworthy manner. The award is made annually. The recipient of the award is invited to address the Society on a subject in plant biology at the next annual meeting. USDA, Agricultural Research Service
University of California

Sakis Theologis is recognized for his sustained and outstanding contributions to plant science for more than 30 years. Until his recent retirement from active research, Sakis was an adjunct professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at the University of California (UC) at Berkeley, and a research scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service–UC Berkeley Plant Gene Expression Center. Sakis established a superb record of professional service, including being a founding instructor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Arabidopsis summer course and a key member of a small group of scientists who imagined, developed, and led the multinational Arabidopsis Genome Initiative (AGI). His enthusiasm for science is evident and pervasive, and he has been a truly inspiring mentor and colleague to many plant biologists.

During his career, Sakis made fundamental discoveries relating to the physiology of fruit ripening, the mechanism and regulation of ethylene synthesis and action, and the molecular basis of auxin action. For example, he was the first to isolate the gene for ACC synthase, which catalyzes the rate-determining step in ethylene biosynthesis, and he was the first to clearly show that auxin rapidly stimulates transcription of specific genes. Those in the field acknowledge that Sakis's early work laid the foundation for our current detailed knowledge of auxin signaling. During the last part of his career, he was a pioneer in the effort to move plants into the genomics age. In 2000, the sequence of Arabidopsis chromosome 1 was published in Nature in the same issue as the complete genome sequence. The chromosome 1 paper had multiple authors, of course, but Sakis was both the senior and corresponding author of this landmark paper.

In short, Sakis effectively integrated the qualities of research scientist, educator/mentor, and leader in the field of modern plant hormone biology and genomics, and in so doing he served the science of plant biology in a most noteworthy manner. Sakis Theologis is therefore highly deserving of this honor.