Testimonials for Pioneer Member Richard Jorgensen

Luca Comai – The discovery of co-suppression by the Jorgensen-Napoli team in 1990 was one of the most exciting scientific findings of that period. It spurred a number of studies that ultimately led to great advances in our understanding of the small RNAs’ role in gene epigenetic regulation. In addition, Rich contributed to the general advance of plant biology through his service as Editor-in-Chief of The Plant Cell and in the application of computational methods to plant research.

Brian Dilkes – Rich was an invaluable font of very timely advice, not least of which was to ignore what a bunch of people who wanted to give you an award thought you should work on.

Hugo K Dooner – Rich and I share a common transposon genetics educational background from the University of Wisconsin, so I was thrilled when he decided to join my lab at Advanced Genetic Sciences (Oakland, CA) in the early 80s. In his brief time in my lab, Rich taught me about restriction enzymes, Southern blots, RFLPs, and what was then fancy genetic mapping. Shortly thereafter, Rich became the leader of his own lab and –with Carolyn Napoli—discovered cosuppression, a basic epigenetic gene silencing phenomenon in plants and animals. Rich eventually became Editor-in-Chief of The Plant Cell and I had the pleasure to work with him in the journal’s Editorial Board. Rich is your prototypic “ideas” guy: inquisitive, imaginative, creative, open, and ready to discuss any new topic with you. I appreciated his short time in my lab, but even more so, I have enjoyed our continuous friendship over the last four decades.

Sanwen Huang – Professor Jorgensen is an early pioneer in the study of post-transcriptional gene silencing,and he is also a great colleague always willing to help.

Richard Jorgensen – Rich Jorgensen is a visionary and highly innovative plant geneticist whose research contributed to using gene transformation technologies to engineer plants with novel traits. However, as we know full well, the path of science can take unexpected trajectories. Rich’s work at DNA Plant Technology Corporation (DNAP) was focused on generating transgenic petunia, over-expressing the chalcone synthase (Chs) gene, to produce plants whose flowers had a deeper purple color. However, the resultant flowers were not as expected, having a variety of patterns of purple and white areas! In exploring the basis for this unexpected outcome, Rich and his wife Carolyn Napoli discovered the process of co-suppression, through which introduction of an additional copy of a host gene resulted in the loss of transcripts, from both the endogenous and introduced genes. Importantly, such co-suppression events occurred without affecting the process of transcription, revealing that co-suppression of homologous genes, in plants, occurred by a process of posttranscriptional gene silencing (PTGS), later termed RNA interference (RNAi). Rich and Carolyn took up positions at UC Davis and we first met during a seminar. Rich’s 1995 Science article on co-suppression and our Science KN1 article (also in 1995) were the starting points for our discussion. As Rich pointed out, this property of PD to mediate in non-cell-autonomous trafficking of RNA could well underlie the unusual irregular PTGS/RNAi patterning that they observed in the petals of the transgenic petunia. A visit to the greenhouse illustrated Rich’s point. I recall examining the silencing pattern of one petunia line, which he had named the “Cossack Dancer”, that had white silenced sectors (centered on the mid-veins) and deep purple wild-type sectors located inward from the margins of the petals. A close examination of the juncture between these 2 sectors revealed a white margin, likely reflecting an uneven progression of the silencing RNA agent; this we presumed would be some form of the Chs transcript, perhaps the antisense form. Rich lived close by providing us with opportunities to meet on many occasions to discuss PTGS/RNAi, including aspects of both cell-to-cell and long-distance silencing. During a 1997 trip to New Zealand, where Rich and I participated in a Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting, we had the good fortune to meet with colleagues like Richard Forster, to discuss events taking place in virus-infected plants. Based on this information, an afternoon and evening were spent putting these puzzle pieces together, in the form of a schematic, and then we drafted the text for a Research Commentary. This concept of an RNA-based information superhighway appeared in Science at about the same time, in 1998, that Andy Fire and Craig Mello published their findings in Nature on the central role of dsRNA in RNAi. The rest of this story is history! I am very fortunate to have been able to interact and work closely with such a gifted colleague. Discussion held over the ensuing years, as well as service together on editorial boards, government advisory panels, and so on, have provided sage advice, valuable insights into complex problems, and a deep appreciation for the company of a wonderful friend. Based on all his contributions to the plant sciences community, Rich Jorgensen is clearly worthy to be an ASPB Pioneer member.

Brian Larkins – Rich’s discovery of “co-suppression”, the first evidence of gene silencing via small RNAs, created the foundation for a whole new area of research in gene regulation. While it culminated in others receiving a Nobel Prize for this discovery, Rich’s contribution was appropriately credited. And as the 4th Editor-in-Chief of The Plant Cell, he broadened the scope of research published in the journal and maintained its tradition of publishing excellence.

Richard Michelmore – For many years, Rich was way ahead of contemporary mainstream thinking on epigenetics and gene silencing.

William F. Thompson – As a postdoc, Rich helped drive my lab in interesting new directions, and ever since he’s been doing the same thing for the whole field of plant biology. Along the way he’s been an informal mentor to many, and helpful to many more. I’m happy to support the effort to recognize him as a Pioneer.

Jean-Philippe Vielle-calzada – Rich Jorgensen pioneered crucial discoveries in the field of plant epigenetics, some of which preceded major findings of Nobel caliber in the animal field. His work on RNA-mediated gene silencing in petunia was the basis of the whole RNAi silencing field, and a scientific platform that gave rise to our current unerstanding of sRNA-dependent transcriptional and posttranscriptional gene silencing. He combined a wide and innovative vision of the future of plant biology with human values and convictions that brought forward collective knowledge building, open public science and accesability, and sustainable development. He is unquestionable a pioneer to be honored at ASPB.