UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jonathan Lynch, professor of plant nutrition in the College of Agricultural Sciences, was one of 15 Penn State faculty members to be named distinguished professors by the University this month.
Lynch's laboratory studies the genetic, physiological and ecological basis of plant adaptation to drought and low soil fertility. This includes examining root traits that can be used to breed crops to better acquire the critical resources necessary for healthy growth.
"Jonathan Lynch and his team have contributed invaluable knowledge to the agricultural sciences and the topics of root physiology, morphology and genetics," said Richard Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. "His discoveries have both scientific and practical applications to help improve the yield and quality of important crops. For this, he is very deserving of this distinction."
Lynch's research has profound implications for ecosystems and food systems around the world. His work has helped to identify and evaluate root characteristics and adaptations of plants — including crops such as common bean, soybeans and maize — and to develop varieties that can tolerate drought and poor soil conditions.
Lynch's lab recently received a $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, to design a low-cost, integrated system that can identify and screen for high-yielding, deeper-rooted crops. Over the years, his research has been published in peer-reviewed journals such as Plant Physiology and Crop Science.
"Dr. Lynch has become a world leader in the understanding and deployment of root traits for better crop adaptation to drought and low soil fertility," said Kathleen Brown, professor of plant stress biology at Penn State and Lynch's spouse and colleague. "His work has been very influential and has led to major initiatives on phenotyping roots (assessing various root traits in large populations used by plant breeders) and to a growing ability of plant breeders to include root traits in their selection schemes."
Lynch began his career at Penn State as an assistant professor in 1991. Since then, he has advised 35 doctoral students, 13 master's students and 18 postdoctoral scholars, as well as 31 visiting researchers and scholars. His lab is home to several undergraduate research projects, and he teaches a writing-intensive undergraduate course in plant nutrition each year.
In addition to his responsibilities at Penn State, Lynch also serves as a chair on the Plant Efficiency Advisory Council at the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, as a chair in root biology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom and as director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Beans.
Lynch has received many awards over the course of his career — notably, a Dundee Medal from the James Hutton Institute in Scotland, the Alex and Jessie C. Black Award for Excellence in Agricultural Research, the Howard P. Taylor lectureship in root-biology research, a fellowship at the Crop Science Society of America and a distinguished professorship from the Mexican Academy of Sciences. During his work in China in the 1990s, Lynch was honored with the Chinese Friendship Award, the highest recognition given to foreigners by the government, and the Excellent Education Work Prize.
Prior to arriving at Penn State, Lynch held positions as a senior staff member at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia and as a postgraduate researcher at the University of California, Davis. He earned master's and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Davis, in plant physiology, and a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley in soils and plant nutrition.
The title of distinguished professor recognizes the academic contributions of current, full-time faculty members who hold the rank of professor. Distinguished professors are acknowledged leaders in their fields of research or creative activity; demonstrate significant leadership in raising the University's standards in teaching, research or creative activity and service; and exhibit excellent teaching skills.