Joachim Messing, director of Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology, has been elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors an American scientist or engineer can achieve.
Messing, who is considered to be one of the world’s top experts in molecular genetics, was among 84 new members elected and recognized this year for their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.
“I am glad and honored that I got elected,” said Messing, the Selman A. Waksman Chair in Molecular Genetics, who got the surprise news on Tuesday morning just minutes after the National Academy of Sciences took a final vote.“When I first got the call at home, I didn’t even associate it with the academy,” said Messing who spent the morning receiving calls from well-wishers. “I look forward to being inducted into the academy next year.”
The professor of molecular biology – who teaches undergraduates and mentors students in his laboratory – developed the shotgun sequencing approach which was used in the Human Genome Project and has been instrumental in deciphering the genetic code of crop plants.
The genetic engineering technique he gave away to scientists throughout the world – for free, instead of patenting – has been critical for the agricultural biotechnology industry and also in the development of new pharmaceuticals and the diagnosis of diseases.
“As one of the world’s leading molecular geneticists, Joachim Messing has been instrumental in creating disease-resistant crops that are feeding the world,” said Rutgers University-New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards. “The Rutgers University community is proud of Dr. Messing’s induction into the National Academy of Sciences and his many accomplishments on behalf of humanity.”
For Messing, who came to Rutgers in 1985 to oversee research at the Waksman Institute, finding innovative methods to develop superior crops with higher yields and nutritional quality has been a top priority.
His work today focuses on providing more sustainable, healthy and productive sources of food for the world’s population and extracting biofuels for energy from plants that grow either on water or marginal land and do not compete with land use or food production.
Messing was elected to the American Academy of Microbiology and received the 2014 Promega Biotechnology Research Award. He also has been inducted as a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the oldest continuously existing scientific association in the world. Messing was recognized by the Wolf Foundation of Israel in 2013 when he won the Wolf Prize in Agriculture, which honors scientists and artists whose “achievements are in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples.”
“When you receive recognition for your work like this, the day becomes a little hectic,” Messing said. “But when the day is over, this research will go on.”
– Robin Lally