Noted University of Georgia plant biologist Susan Wessler named SURA Distinguished Scientist

Noted University of Georgia plant biologist Susan Wessler named SURA Distinguished Scientist

Athens, Ga. – Susan R. Wessler, Regents’ Professor of Plant Biology at the University of Georgia, will receive the first Distinguished Scientist Award from the Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA). The award from the consortium of over 60 leading research institutions in the southern United States honors a research scientist whose extraordinary work fulfills the SURA mission of fostering excellence in scientific research. The award and $20,000 honorarium will be presented to Wessler on April 17.

Wessler came to the University of Georgia in 1983 after earning her Ph.D. in biochemistry at Cornell University and serving as a postdoctoral fellow of the American Cancer Society at the Carnegie Institution in Baltimore. She rose from assistant professor of botany to a Regents Professor – the first woman to hold that title at the university – in 2005. Upon her arrival at UGA, she was awarded a grant from the National Institute of Health and has successfully competed for grant renewals for almost a quarter of a century. This helped Wessler leverage the reputation of her laboratory to attract a cohort of world-class plant genetics faculty and to secure a leadership role for the University of Georgia in this field of study.

“Her impact on the scientific community at the University of Georgia cannot be overestimated. During her 24 years at the university she has had 19 major grants funded for almost $16 million,” wrote David Lee, University of Georgia vice president for research, in his letter nominating Wessler.

“Dr. Wessler is a consummate professor who is passionately committed to communicating the excitement of scientific research to her students. She has risen rapidly through the ranks while raising a family and never shirking her local, national and international responsibilities,” he wrote.

“It is a great honor to receive the first SURA Distinguished Scientist Award,” said Wessler. “Like everything in scientific research, this award reflects the hard work of many researchers who have worked in my laboratory including the graduate students, postdoctoral associates and technical assistants. It is also a reflection of the continued support I have received from my faculty colleagues and administrators of the University of Georgia,” she added.

In addition to receiving a number of awards from the university, in 1998 Wessler was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences for her pioneering studies of transposable elements – mobile fragments of DNA that can move from one chromosomal location to another and increase their contribution to the whole genome until they can account for the majority of the genomic DNA. In 2003, she was elected to a three-year term as a Councilor of the National Academy of Sciences and last year was selected as one of five associate editors of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Also in 2006, Wessler was chosen to receive one of only 20 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor awards. She has published over 100 research articles and authored or co-authored three books, including Introduction to Genetic Analysis, a leading genetics textbook for undergraduates.