May 29, 2024
Cornell plant disease scientist receives international honor

A Cornell University plant disease scientist has been honored for her work in improving crops.

Maria Harrison is an adjunct professor in the section of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology at Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science.

The Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) celebrates the election of Harrison as a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences. Harrison is the institute’s William H. Crocker Professor.

Maria Harrison
Maria Harrison

Election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society is extended to individuals who have made substantial contributions to improving natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science, and medical science.

“Harrison joins an exceptional group of over 90 researchers from across the world who have been elected to the Fellowship this year,” Sir Adrian Smith, the Royal Society’s president, said in a news release. “This new cohort has already made significant contributions to our understanding of the world around us and continues to push the boundaries of possibility in academic research and industry.”

The honor recognizes Harrison’s contributions to understanding plant-fungal symbioses, which play crucial roles in plant nutrient uptake and soil health. Her work has shed light on the mechanisms underlying their development, nutrient transport, and regulation, according to the release.

Harrison’s research has advanced understanding of how plants accommodate fungal endosymbionts within their root cells and how reciprocal transfer of phosphate and carbon between the two partners is achieved.

Harrison studied microbiology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and plant molecular biology at the University of Manchester, Institute of Science and Technology where she obtained her Ph.D. in 1987. She joined the Plant Biology Division of the Noble Foundation in Oklahoma as a postdoctoral researcher, where subsequently, as a staff scientist, initiated research on arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis. In 2003, she moved to the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research located at Cornell University.

Boyce Thompson Institute BTIHarrison has served on the Board of Directors of the International Society for Molecular Plant Microbe Interactions and several editorial boards including New Phytologist, Annual Reviews of Plant Biology and eLife. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Academy for Microbiology. She was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2019.

Harrison has authored papers on a variety of plant science topics as well as studied helping ag become more efficient in using phosphorus, a disappearing nutrient.

“It is a tremendous honor,” Harrison said in the release. “I would like to recognize and thank all of the Harrison lab members and collaborators who have contributed to our research over the years—their achievements built the research record that led to this award. I am also grateful to the BTI staff for their support and to my faculty colleagues at BTI and across the Cornell campus who make this vibrant research community such an enjoyable place to work.”

BTI has a longstanding commitment to advancing plant science research, and Harrison’s election to the Royal Society further reinforces BTI’s position at the forefront of this field, according to the release.

“As the Institute continues to tackle pressing global challenges, such as food security and environmental sustainability, the expertise and insights of researchers like Harrison will be instrumental in finding innovative solutions,” Silvia Restrepo, the institute’s president, said in the release. “We are incredibly proud of Maria’s election to the Royal Society. Her research has advanced our understanding of plant-microbe interactions and their potential to address global challenges in agriculture and environmental sustainability. This recognition is a testament to her dedication, innovation, and passion.”

Founded in 1924, the Ithaca, New York, institute is an independent nonprofit research institute affiliated with Cornell University that promotes plant science research to advance discoveries in plant sciences.

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