Testimonials for Pioneer Member Donald McCarty

L. Curtis Hannah – It is a pleasure to write a testimonial for my long-time collaborator and colleague, Don McCarty. Don came to the University of Florida in 1985 as a post-doctoral associate in my lab. I wish I could say I was the attraction; however; unbeknownst to me, Don was romantically involved with a fellow faculty member, Karen Koch. Their relationship flourished, and they married. While spending only a year in my lab, Don’s work was quite productive, leading to a PNAS paper. His talents were quickly recognized by the department, and we offered him a faculty position in 1986. Don’s impressive career has been centered around the maize seed, particularly its maturation. After leaving my lab, he quickly cloned the viviparous-1 gene via transposable element tagging and showed the cognate protein is involved in transcription. Later studies focused on interactions of Vp1 with other genes, particularly those involved in anthocyanin synthesis, as well as understanding the function of various motifs of the VP1 protein. Subsequent studies of the maize white cap gene led to a series of studies on other maize seed pigments, carotenoids, and their degradation. Don spearheaded efforts in the development of what turned out to be an extremely useful genetic resorce for the plant community, UniformMu. From what I can gather, his lab has now taken on the challenge of following mutants into all types of poorly understood biochemistries. Don and I have published about a dozen papers with various collaborators over the years, and I can attest that he is one of the brightest people with whom I have ever interacted. I know I have gotten credit for insight that traces back to Don. Don and people like him make academia a pleasant and inspiring place to be.

Andrew Hanson – I leave it others to describe and honor Don McCarty’s many specific contributions to plant science, especially maize genetics. I just want to say that Don is hands-down one of the most intelligent, widely knowledgeable, original, and open-spirited scientists whom it has been my privilege to know and work with… and the closest to being a true polymath. Don’s enthusiasm for ideas – sometimes verging on the mystical – is infectious and inspirational for colleagues and trainees alike. Sir Isaac Newton and René Descartes had a definite mystical element in their thinking – and, as a warrant for mysticism in science (you could also call it a deep sense of wonder), you can’t say fairer than that!

Brian Larkins – Don’s pioneering work on maize seed development and germination has been foundational, and his work to create a population of Mutator-tagged maize mutants has advanced the research of many colleagues- though not mine in particular! Nevertheless, I was pleased to lead this effort to recognize him as one of the Pioneers of ASPB.

Bala Rathinasabapathi – Don has been a great colleague who provides intellectual leadership in the area of genomics. His ‘uniform Mu population’ of maize has been a great community resource. As a team member, he greatly enhanced the ‘Plant Biochemistry’ course for University of Florida students.

Masaharu Suzuki – As his post-doc and collaborator for over 20 years, I witnessed Don’s excellence in science and education. He is one of the most outstanding scientists I have ever met. Among the countless impactful findings that he has made, I highlight my top three below: 1) Don was the first to identify and reveal the functions of the key transcription factor for ABA signaling, VP1, in plants. 2) Don was the first to identify and reveal functions of the key enzyme for ABA biosynthesis, VP14, in plants. 3) Don led his group to construct the maize UniformMu population and make this mutant collection available to the public. UniformMu has become the largest public mutant collection for reverse genetics research in maize.