UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jonathan Lynch, distinguished professor of plant science in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, has been named the 2018 winner of the Dennis R. Hoagland Award for his work in improving scientific understanding of crop productivity and plant nutrition to improve production and food security.
The American Society of Plant Biologists presents the award every three years to scientists who have made outstanding contributions to plant research in support of agriculture. The award is a tribute to Dennis R. Hoagland, professor of plant nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1913 to 1949 and a leading authority in plant and soil interactions.
Lynch, a plant nutritionist and leading authority on root biology in important crops such as maize and common beans, will receive the award in July at the society's annual meeting in Montreal, Canada.
In her nomination letter, Erin Connolly, professor and head of Penn State's Department of Plant Science, praised Lynch's "groundbreaking and transformative" work in understanding the basis of plant adaptation to drought and low soil fertility.
"Dr. Lynch is an exceptional scientist and is internationally recognized, not just for his contributions to the field but also for the immense impact this work has had on improvement of crop production in North America, Latin America and Africa," she said. "His work provides a platform for improving food security and the lives of people around the world."
Connolly said Lynch's work in establishing a clear connection between root traits and the ability of the crop to obtain scarce nutrients and water is unique. Complementary research in the Lynch lab focuses on drought tolerance in crop plants and the role of root anatomy in this process.
"One of the key features of Dr. Lynch's work is his ability to employ a wide array of approaches and technologies to address the most critical questions," she said, explaining that he has developed new tools to facilitate discovery — in particular, his use of laser ablation tomography to phenotype root system architecture.
He developed methods to assess root traits of crops grown under typical agronomic conditions in the field and to predict the effects of various root trait combinations using computer simulation models. This research will foster a better understanding of how plants respond to stress and nutrient availability in a real-world setting.
Lynch and his collaborators, including Kathleen Brown, professor of plant stress biology, have identified novel root traits that have been used in bean, maize and soybean breeding programs all over the world, with a goal of improving crop health and yield.
"These types of studies are quite urgent given the rate of climate change and our need to feed a growing population," Connolly said.
Lynch's extensive record of scholarly publishing includes 200 papers and numerous book chapters. He has received $24 million in grants since 2007, from sources such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, McKnight Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Generation Challenge Program.
In addition, Lynch has been recognized internationally. He was a recipient of the Dundee Medal in Plant Nutrition from the James Hutton Institute, Scotland, and the China Friendship Award, the highest recognition awarded to foreigners by the Chinese government and bestowed upon him by Premier Zhu Rongji. He is a Fellow of the Crop Science Society of America and served as chairman of the advisory committee on plant efficiency for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.
Lynch joined the Penn State faculty in 1991. He holds a bachelor's degree in soils and plant nutrition from the University of California, Berkeley, and master's and doctoral degrees in plant physiology from the University of California, Davis.