Testimonials for Pioneer Member Carolyn Napoli

Randall Denker and Steve Leitman – I was fortunate to have Dr. Carolyn Napoli as my dear friend for nearly 50 years! Our friendship goes back to our days at University of Florida, when she was a doctoral student and I was in law school. We shared many adventures together over the years. I watched Carolyn’s pioneering career with pride. She has not only been a leader in the field of plant genetics, but she has also done it “backwards and in heels”, so to speak, while being a magnificent single mother and a great friend. I am proud to contribute to this recognition, and I hope it will help other talented women become esteemed scientists.

Hugo K. Dooner – Carolyn stands out as a pioneer not only in plant biology, but in the entire field of epigenetics. She is a co-discoverer of cosuppression, an important general gene silencing mechanism which, like transposon silencing, paramutation, and parental imprinting, was first discovered in plants. I am very pleased to have been her colleague when she and Rich Jorgensen codiscovered the phenomenon while working in the amazingly collegial environment of AGS/DNAP, our fondly remembered small biotech company in Oakland, CA.

David Gilbert – As I entered adulthood, I never thought communicating scientific achievement was to be my sustained career trajectory over four-plus decades. What captured my imagination and set me on this path was the physical manifestation of early plant transformation/genetic engineering strategies deployed by Carolyn Napoli while conducting research at DNA Plant Technologies Corporation (DNAP). At the time, I was an unskilled hired hand watering plants in the company’s rooftop greenhouse, when I was taken by the sight of a petunia flower she and her colleagues generated and dubbed the Cossack Dancer. The effort to overexpress chalcone synthase (CHS) in pigmented petunia petals by introducing a chimeric petunia CHS gene unexpectedly blocked anthocyanin biosynthesis. While the mechanism was not clear at that time, it induced reversible co-suppression of homologous genes in trans and quite dramatically yielded a panoply of novel floral petal patterns, including the Cossack Dancer. Carolyn’s research, along with that of others, catalyzed a wave of gene silencing advances that would inform subsequent efforts to develop gene-editing tools that would have impactful biotechnology applications beyond plants. It was also Carolyn’s enthusiasm and patient informal mentorship that inspired me to move from watering plants to working at the lab bench and ultimately telling stories behind scientific achievements that emanated from the lab bench.

Carolyn’s later contributions in launching the NSF-funded ChromDB research grant provided high school teachers with hands-on bioinformatics and functional genomics experiences, while highlighting the importance of those packages of nuclear DNA in eukaryotic cells known as chromatin. ChromDB was a platform for translating her contagious passion for discovery into accessible tools for inspiring the next generation of students to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers. Carolyn was prescient in mobilizing the distributed (via the internet) deployment of bioinformatics tools as a pathway into science, particularly for those who are traditionally underrepresented in the biotechnology workforce. Her success encouraged me to recognize an opportunity to partner with high school and community college educators so they could introduce into the classroom the computational resources developed by the Federally-funded institute where I have worked for the last twenty years.

Carolyn’s significant contributions spanning pathbreaking plant molecular biology and plant genomics discoveries to inspiring successive generations in their pursuit of bioinformatics careers truly personify the spirit of the ASPB Pioneer recognition.

Nancy Guild – Carolyn was a wonderful mentor to me when I was a graduate student, She was smart, insightful and supportive and helped me successfully migrate the challenges of graduate school. As a woman scientist, she was a wonderful role model for women scientists, not only for me but for several other women in the lab where she was a post doc.

Stephen and Susan Hedrick – We are honored to support Carolyn’s nomination for her pioneering work on cosuppresion and the genetic control of branching.

Bart Janssen – I met Dr. Carolyn Napoli when she employed my partner as her post-doc at UC Davis, and she was instrumental in me finding a position as a post-doc at U.C. Davis as well (in Dr Neelima Sinha’s amazing lab). Carolyn was the kind of PI any post-doc dreams of having. Incredibly intelligent and talented in the lab herself, she balanced her experience and knowledge with listening to the ideas and contributions of those around her. Even though she wasn’t my boss, she was an inspiration and a joy to talk with about science or food. Her pioneering work on the development of axillary meristems shaped the field, and I remember so many discussions in her lab and at her home over dinner as we tried to figure out how plants grow. Her generosity of ideas and thought is something I’ve tried to emulate in my own work.

Brian Larkins – Carolyn’s research touched upon one of the most interesting and surprising discoveries in plant science at an early stage of plant molecular biology, a phenomenon known as “gene co-suppression”, which ultimately led to understanding the role of small RNA molecules in the regulation of gene expression. After trying to recruit her to the Plant Science Department at the University of Arizona in 1989, I was delighted she decided to join us a few years later.

Tom Lemieux – In our previous work together, I remember Carolyn to be a dedicated and insightful scientist, dedicated to plant science.

Kimberley Snowden – Carolyn Napoli was my mentor during my postdoctoral work at UC Davis and the University of Arizona. She taught me how to really look at plants, and gave me an appreciation for plant developmental genetics. Through her influence, I learned how to keep an open mind, particularly for unexpected or unexplained results. Her rigorous but very humane approach taught me that we can be people as well as scientists, and that has made a tremendous difference to how I prefer to lead others. The research that Carolyn did to understand the genetic control of branching in plants has continued in my laboratory today. Her insights and approach were key to understanding that branching isn’t controlled solely by the shoot apical meristem, and that hormones other than auxin and cytokinin are at play. I will forever be thankful for my time in her laboratory, and treasure her friendship.