2011 Sterling B. Hendricks Memorial Lectureship

Sponsored by USDA-Agricultural Research Service

Co-Sponsored by AGRO & AGFD Divisions

Applying advances in chemistry to benefit developing world agriculture

DR. DEBORAH P. DELMER received her B.A. degree with honors in Bacteriology in 1963 from Indiana University and her Ph.D. in Cell Biology in 1968 from the University of California San Diego.  Her first faculty position was at the MSU Plant Research Laboratory, where she held positions of Assistant and then Associate Professor and began her many studies on the biosynthesis of the plant cell wall.   She subsequently held positions as a Principal Scientist at the ARCO Plant Cell Research Institute in Dublin CA, as Professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and, more recently, as Professor and Chair of the Section of Plant Biology at the University of California Davis.

Together with colleagues at Calgene, Inc., Dr. Delmer’s group was the first to identify plant homologs of bacterial genes that encode the catalytic subunit of the cellulose synthase, and much of her later research focused on the role of this gene family in cellulose synthesis in plants.   In 2004, she received from the American Chemical Society the Anselme Payen Award in recognition of excellence in the science and chemical technology of cellulose.  Dr. Delmer also served as President of the American Society of Plant Biologists in 2000.  In 2004, she was elected to membership in the US National Academy of Sciences.

In 2002, at the age of 60, Dr. Delmer surprised all of her colleagues with an interesting change in career goals.  She relocated to New York City to serve as Associate Director for Food Security for the Rockefeller Foundation where she was charged with grant making and policy relating to the role biotechnology can play in advancing the improvement of crops for the developing world. In particular, she helped discover talented young scientists in Africa and played a role in partnering these with advanced scientists around the world to help address issues that constrain agricultural production.

Dr. Delmer retired from the Foundation in early 2007 and now serves on a number of advisory boards and works independently as a consultant to foundations, industry, and governments on developing world agriculture and on issues surrounding biomass production. In 2009/10, she also served as Program Director to help roll out a new program called BREAD that supports innovative research that addresses issues of importance to small-holder farmers in the developing world and is jointly funded by the US National Science Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  In 2010, she became a member of the Board of Governors of The International Center for Research on the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), one of the 15 centers of CGIAR devoted to research that promotes agriculture in the developing world.