Molecular Geneticist Mary Lou Guerinot Named Nonresident Fellow at the Salk Institute

Guerinot will join a group of top scientific advisers who guide the leadership of one of the world's preeminent research institutions.

The Salk Institute, one of the world's preeminent research institutions, has named Dartmouth plant molecular geneticist Mary Lou Guerinot a nonresident fellow. In this role Guerinot will join a group of eminent scientific advisers who guide the institute's leadership. 

"We are thrilled and honored to welcome Mary Lou as our newest nonresident fellow," Salk Institute President Rusty Gage says. "Her research lays the foundation for fortifying food crops and offering sustainable plant-based solutions for removing toxic metals from soil, holding promise for improving agricultural productivity and human health."

Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, the La Jolla, Calif.-based Salk Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark. Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to the understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.

Guerinot holds the Ronald and Deborah Harris Professorship in the Sciences and is a professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth, where she was the first woman to chair a science department. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, she is widely known for her pioneering research on metal metabolism in plants. 

"With this wonderful appointment, the Salk Institute joins the growing list of institutions that benefit from Mary Lou's legacy of trailblazing scholarship and teaching. Her scientific breakthroughs, along with her energy and enthusiasm, continue to inspire generations of Dartmouth students," says Jane Lipson, associate dean for the sciences. 

Guerinot helped identify the protein IRT1, which is responsible for iron uptake from soil. She was also among the first plant biologists to use synchrotron X-ray fluorescence microprobe imaging, a specialized tool used to study the distribution of trace elements in plants, such as iron, zinc, and manganese.

Additionally, Guerinot helped develop the field of ionomics, an interdisciplinary study that draws from genomics and bioinformatics to better understand the functional connections in organisms between genes, proteins, and minerals. The open-source ionomic database, a unique collection of the elemental profiles of several plant species and yeast, helps researchers identify genes controlling the mineral composition of crops.

Guerinot applied ionomic tools to identify genes that regulate the uptake of harsh toxins in food crops. The project was part of the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, in which a team of interdisciplinary scientists investigated the ways arsenic and mercury affect ecosystems and disrupt food supply for humans. Through field trials conducted in Bangladesh, China, Arkansas, and Texas, the team found rice varieties that exhibit lower levels of arsenic.

Guerinot has published more than 150 papers in scientific journals. Her many honors include the Stephen Hales Prize and the Dennis R. Hoagland Award from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB); the Dartmouth Graduate Mentoring Award; and the Dean of Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentoring and Advising.

She is also a fellow and the past president of ASPB as well as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She served as a member of the Advisory Committee for Biological Sciences at the National Science Foundation and as a member of the Board of Directors for the Genetics Society of America. She currently serves as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board and the Board of Directors for the Boyce Thompson Institute.