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Cornell plant biologist receives early career award

Gaurav Moghe, assistant professor of plant biology, has been named the 2018 Early Career Award winner from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB). 

Gaurav Moghe, assistant professor of plant biology, has been named the 2018 Early Career Award winner from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB). The award recognizes exceptionally creative, independent contributions in the field by scientists at the beginnings of their careers.

Moghe studies the origins of biological complexity with a focus on specialized metabolites. In addition to addressing fundamental questions about plant biology and evolution, these investigations open the door to discovery of chemically novel metabolites with potential applications in agriculture and medicine.

Moghe joined the faculty in the Plant Biology Section in the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) in 2017. His doctoral research at Michigan State University focused on evolution of genomes and gene expression patterns. His postdoctoral work, also at Michigan State, focused on the evolution of specialized metabolic networks.

His work was lauded by the ASPB for integrating multiple disciplines spanning the fields of biochemistry, molecular biology, bioinformatics, evolutionary biology and agricultural science. He has co-authored 15 papers to date, including a recent publication in eLife where Moghe describes the evolution of the acylsugar metabolic network in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which include crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. Study of such natural plant defense compounds has potential to improve agricultural sustainability by reducing the use of synthetic pesticides.

“Plant metabolic networks are fascinating, not just because of their ecological and evolutionary significance, but also because they have played important roles in human society for millennia,” said Moghe. “The inventory of tools available right now to probe these networks allows us to ask some unique, interdisciplinary questions of both fundamental and applied nature.”

Ongoing research in the Moghe lab is exploring how plant metabolic diversity is generated, the purposes these metabolites might serve for the plants that make them, and how they can be used to benefit agriculture, nutrition and medicine. Moghe’s program is addressing these questions using the tools of molecular biology and genetics, mass spectrometry, genomics, molecular evolution and bioinformatic analyses.

“We are very pleased to have been able to recruit Gaurav last year to our Section of Plant Biology within SIPS, because his research is highly creative and timely, taking advantage of technological developments in analytical chemistry (in particular mass spectrometry) and rapid genome/RNA sequencing, and using this to answer fundamental questions in secondary metabolism in plants,” said Klaas van Wijk, professor and chair in the Plant Biology Section. “Plants have a dazzling array of secondary metabolites, most of which have not been characterized; this metabolic diversity is not only fascinating from a pure scientific, intellectual standpoint, but is also a critical source for new pharmaceuticals. This makes Gaurav’s research even more significant.”

Moghe said he looks forward to teaching a graduate course on the use and application of bioinformatics to questions in plant biology.

ASPB is a professional society devoted to the advancement of the plant sciences including publication of the journals Plant Physiology and The Plant Cell. Michael Gore, associate professor in the SIPS Plant Breeding and Genetics Section, was the 2013 winner of the Early Career Award.

Magdalen Lindeberg is assistant director at the School of Integrative Plant Science and senior research associate in the Section of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology.