Phi Kappa Phi member Zachary Lippman is one of 26 MacArthur Fellows for 2019.
As a plant biologist and geneticist, Lippman received the award for investigating the genetic mechanisms determining flower production and for developing tools for breeding hardier, higher-yielding crops. “He has demonstrated the ability to create allelic variants (or mutations) that can sidestep the painstaking process of breeding for qualities that take many generations to produce while maintaining beneficial elements of the original plant,” according to the MacArthur Foundation.
“I’ve been interested in plants for a very long time,” said Lippman in a video by the MacArthur Foundation. “The most surprising aspect of my research is that genes can be tuned like a dial. You can tune them up; you can tune them down. And by tuning genes, you can also tune traits up and down quantitatively in very subtle ways.
By identifying specific genes that govern leaf and flower production and editing them using CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), he was able to optimize them for different agricultural needs. His team at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has been able to manipulate production to improve crop yields.
Lippman received his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University where he was initiated as a Phi Kappa Phi member in 2000. He earned a Ph.D. from the Watson School of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He started his own research program at CSHL in 2008, where he is the Jacob Goldfield Professor of Genetics.
Also known as the Genius Grant, the MacArthur Fellowship celebrates individuals who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The fellows, who span the disciplines, receive a no-strings-attached grant of $625,000 over five years.
Photo credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation