MSU AgBioResearch scientist named one of the nation’s most innovative researchers

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MSU AgBioResearch plant biologist Sheng Yang He has been named one of the nation’s most-innovative plant scientists as part of a $75 million new plant science research initiative.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation honored He, who is with the MSU Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory, and 14 other researchers from around the country. The honor will see He’s salary, benefits and research expenses covered for the next five years or longer.MSU AgBioResearch, Sheng Yang He

“The magnitude of being named an HHMI-GBMF investigator hasn’t sunk in yet,” said He, the first MSU professor to receive the award. “It is quite an honor to be selected from a pool of the nation’s best plant scientists, including some of my outstanding colleagues at MSU. It truly reflects the long-term commitment of MSU to make plant science research and education among the nation’s best.”

For nearly 20 years, He has been plotting an original course of research.

“Most of my colleagues were trying to understand how plants defend themselves against disease, the molecular basis of plant resistance,” He said. “But I thought the opposite – I wanted to know why plants are susceptible to disease.”

Much of He’s research has focused on the Type III secretion system, a formidable bacterial weapon. Plant scientists have known for years that bacteria secrete disease-promoting proteins, but conventional wisdom held that those proteins affected host cells from the outside. He discovered that some of these proteins act inside plant cells.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we could find a way to inactivate the pathogen’s Type III secretion system?” He asked.

He was selected from nearly 240 applicants to receive the five-year funding, which begins in September. He is eligible for renewal for another five-year term.

Photo: MSU AgBioResearch plant biologist, Sheng Yang He

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