Testimonials for Pioneer Member Donald Ort

Damian Allen – My time as a post-doc in Don’s lab bridged between his time as ASPP/ASPB President and its name change from Physiology to Biology. I was going through a similar transition myself. Having arrived as a gas-exchange specialist, Don’s history of biochemistry and his grad students’ molecular biology was the first step to broadening my horizons. Throughout my time in his lab he kept introducing me to new questions, collaborators and techniques, culminating in the first season of SoyFACE. While this diversity likely didn’t deliver quite as many publications as a more focused approach, it was the perfect springboard to my future career in industry. The exposure to molecular biology was necessary for my first job in crop trait discovery. More importantly, Don enabling this successful first jump out of my well-trained comfort zone provided me with the confidence and skills to jump into many new fields since then, including agronomy, invasiveness, bioenergy crops and biofuel process development. None of this would have happened without Don’s encouragement to use the best available tools to address critical questions in agriculture, rather than clinging to the known safety of whole plant ecophysiology. Watching from the outside these last 20 years, it’s clear that Don’s approach to those in and around his lab has clearly paid off. Among many other successes, Don and those trained and supported by him over the years have ensured that SoyFACE is still running and delivering robust answers to the critical questions posed by climate change.

Juan Alejandro Perdomo Lopez – I want to thank Professor Donald Ort for the opportunity of letting me join his lab for a short period in 2018. For me, it was an invaluable experience which gave me the work experience in a foreign country while expanding my professional network for future collaborations. From my visit, I was also able to learn new techniques that have been very important for my career development.

Cody Markelz – Don mentored me through undergrad and graduate school (thesis committee chair). Don is always generous with his time and gives the most direct feedback for scientific, career, or home DIY advice. Don’s commitment to the broader plant biology research community is documented by the dozens of graduate students and postdocs he has trained, as well as his numerous voluntary roles at ASPB. Don is well deserving of being recognized as an ASPB Pioneer.

Paul South – Don Ort has and continues to be the most influential mentor with whom I have had the opportunity to interact. As a postdoc in Don’s lab, I was given the freedom to flourish as an independent scientist, while having the exact support I needed when I needed it the most. Don’s door was always open and his advice, both professional and personal, not only led me to paths I could see, but also made me give careful consideration for what it means to be a scientist and a person. There is probably not a more deserving person to be recognized as an ASPB pioneer.

Andy VanLoocke – Don Ort was my postdoctoral mentor. To me, his approach to science is the pinnacle of high quality work and the relentless pursuit of knowledge. Don is the most principled scientist I know, and he taught me to use first principals to substantiate and criticize any scientific findings. His work as a scientist is widely known and recognized, but his patience, skill and generosity as a mentor is likely less well known. This recognition is very fitting with respect to his steadfast efforts to lay the ground work for science using first principals, and recognize his effort behind the scene training multiple generations of scientists.

Ursula M Ruiz Vera – Professor Don Ort is someone who has supported my career tremendously. He is a wonderful boss and leader who knows how to get the best from the people around him to see them grow and help them achieve their professional goals. Moreover, he understands the importance of a healthy work environment, leading by example to set up the standards for a collaborative and inclusive work environment. His expertise in the area of Plant Biology has been an invaluable support for my research. I am lucky to be in his laboratory.

Xinguang Zhu – I did my PhD at the University of Illinois, Champaign, beginning in 1999, which is when I started know Don. He was a member of my PhD Comittee and has always been a role model for me. He has done pioneering work in a number of important areas of photosynthesis. He pionnered studies on the mechanism of chloroplastic ATP synthetase, and he studied the mechanisms of photosynthesis cold responses. After Prof. Steve Long joined the University of Illinois, Don and Steve jointly initiated the SOYFACE facility, which created one of the longest, continuously running global FACE experiments. This research resulted in great insight on how plants respond to global climate change due to the elevated atmospheric CO2 level. One of the major discoveries of SOYFACE experiments is that photosynthesis can be dramatically increased to improve food production under elevated CO2, though the expected increase in yield is less than thought. Based on SOYFACE work, Don created a major research program that spans from mechanistic responses at the gene level to ecological responses of plants to global climate change (Genome Ecology of Global Change in the Institute of Genomic Biology, now called the Carl Woese Institute for Genomic Biology). Don’s current research program focuses on identifying new options to create plants with higher photosynthetic energy conversion efficiency, especially the identify of new ways to create photorespiratory bypasses to increase energy conversion efficiency. The pathway he created holds great potential to transform current crops for greater productivity. Don has not only contributed greatly to the photosynthesis research field, he has also been an excellent mentor. He has trained more than 40 scienitsts, many of whom became professors in different universities around the world. The contribution of Don to photosynthesis research can not be over-stated. I feel he is well qualified to be recongized as an ASPB pioneer.