Public Release:  UC Riverside plant cell biologist receives top scientific honor

Natasha Raikhel is elected member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences

University of California - Riverside

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IMAGE: Natasha Raikhel holds the Ernst and Helen Leibacher Endowed Chair in Plant Molecular, Cell Biology & Genetics at University of California - Riverside. view more

Credit: L. Duka.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Natasha V. Raikhel, a distinguished professor of plant cell biology at the University of California, Riverside and one of the most highly-cited researchers in plant science, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for her excellence in original scientific research.

Elected along with 83 other members and 21 foreign associates from 15 countries, Raikhel brings the number of current UC Riverside faculty elected to NAS to five.

There are currently just over 2,150 active NAS members. Membership in the NAS is one of the highest honors given to a scientist or engineer in the United States. Among the NAS's renowned members are Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, and Alexander Graham Bell.

"Dr. Raikhel's election to the NAS is a well-deserved tribute to her achievements and those of the Institute for Integrative Genome Biology, which she founded," said Marylynn V. Yates, the dean of UCR's College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. "We are very fortunate to have someone with her vision and passion for science as a member of our faculty."

At UCR, Raikhel holds the Ernst and Helen Leibacher Endowed Chair in Plant Molecular, Cell Biology & Genetics. The director also of UCR's Center for Plant Cell Biology, she has been advancing knowledge in plant processes in her long and distinguished career. "Plants can live without us, but we cannot live without plants," she tells her students.

Early in her career, Raikhel recognized the importance of the genomic revolution to biology and pioneered the use of chemical genomics, which uses simple chemicals to alter the functions of specific proteins without killing the plant, to advance our knowledge of plant processes.

Her lab is actively harnessing the high-throughput capacity of new multidisciplinary methods, such as engineering modeling tools and computational biology, to integrate molecular information into a more comprehensive "systems biology" view of the organism. Her studies of the molecular mechanisms governing trafficking in plants and of genetic control of "cell wall polysaccharide biosynthesis" -- one of the most challenging problems in plant biochemistry -- have made lasting scientific contributions in plant biology.

"Natasha is being recognized for pioneering the use of novel genetic and biochemical techniques to elucidate the organization and function of the secretory system in plant cells," said Susan Wessler, a distinguished professor of genetics at UCR and a member and home secretary of the NAS. "We have been close friends for over 30 years and I am incredibly proud of her accomplishments. We can now work together to improve both UCR and the NAS!"

Originally slated to be a concert pianist, Raikhel chose biology over the conservatory - a fortuitous choice for today she enjoys an international reputation in plant cell biology. She is a world-class expert in the area of secretory trafficking, explaining the key role of the vacuole and its numerous functions essential for plant survival.

Frequently invited as a keynote speaker to national and international conferences and symposiums, she has contributed to the field of plant biology for three decades and has guided many graduate students and post-doctoral scholars in their research. She has served on numerous government and industry advisory boards and editorial boards, and as editor-in-chief of one of the oldest and most well-respected plant science journals, Plant Physiology, from 2000-2005.

Her numerous distinguished awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Women in Cell Biology Senior Award from the American Society for Cell Biology, the Stephen Hales Prize from the American Society of Plant Biologists, and a Senior Fellowship from the Japan Society for Promotion of Science.

Raikhel came to UCR in 2001 from Michigan State University, East Lansing. She received her Ph.D. in cell biology from the Institute of Cytology, Academy of Sciences, Leningrad, Russia. She did postdoctoral research at the University of Georgia, Athens, where she was later an assistant research scientist. She was on the faculty at Michigan State University for about ten years.

"There are more deserving people than awards, so it is wonderful that the NAS recognized our research in plant cell biology and I am eternally grateful," Raikhel said. "I share this recognition with my former and current students and postdocs as this award is a result of team work. I also could not have been where I am now without the love and support of my wonderful family, my late parents, and my dear friends. As Lao Tzu said, 'A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving' -- this is the beauty of science!"

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Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PisBtDYBbD8

Another video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK3WXP0YKuQ&t=0m09s

The NAS is a private, nonprofit honorific society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furthering science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Established in 1863, the academy has served to "investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art" whenever called upon to do so by any department of the government.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 20,500 students. The campus will open a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.

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