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IU Media Relations

Larry MacIntyre
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Plant biologist Estelle elected to the National Academy of Sciences

May 1, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Mark Estelle, an Indiana University Bloomington plant biologist who has made seminal contributions to the understanding of how plant growth is regulated, was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the academy announced today.

Estelle image

Mark Estelle, professor and Carlos Miller Chair in Plant Developmental Biology

Print-Quality Photo

As an acknowledgement of authority in a given field, election to the NAS is one of the highest honors an American scientist can receive.

"We are truly delighted Mark has received this well-deserved honor, arguably the highest in American science," said IUB Department of Biology Chair Elizabeth Raff. "Mark's pioneering work in elucidating how hormone signaling works in plants has revolutionized our understanding of crucial biological processes. His work has opened up understanding of a whole new kind of regulatory system -- in plants, yes, but moreover, the discoveries his lab has made over the past few years have also revealed that plants and animals unexpectedly share some of these key pathways."

Since joining IU in 1986, Estelle's research uncovered numerous details of a previously unknown regulatory system for hormone action. Recently, his lab identified the receptor that binds the plant hormone auxin. The receptor was the missing link in the chain of events that controls plant growth and development. His group has also shown that the molecular mechanism by which this receptor works is unlike any previously described. Moreover, the regulatory mechanisms he discovered in plants revealed the existence of fundamental shared regulatory pathways in plants and animals, including humans.

Colleagues praise Estelle's unflinching commitment to a variety of research questions over the course of his career as a plant biologist, which began at Michigan State University in 1983. Although Estelle has undertaken numerous projects, most have centered on how, exactly, plant hormones influence the expression of genes.

"Certainly the discovery of the auxin receptor, which had been a holy grail of plant physiology for ages, has been one of the climaxes of his work," said IUB plant biologist Roger Hangarter. "It is just one of those incredible things. Mark flogged away until he found the answers he was seeking. It's remarkable to think that when he first came to IU 21 years ago, Mark wasn't sure he would get tenure doing what he was doing."

Another IUB plant biologist, Roger Innes, concurs. "Mark's career is a beautiful example of a scientist following one thread of research no matter the obstacle. He started out purely as a geneticist, isolating genes. But to answer some of the questions he faced, he really had to become a biochemist, so he retooled. He is astute and talented enough to master more than one field of science."

Estelle's investigations of plant hormones have not been limited to auxin. Earlier in his career, he helped make important discoveries related to ethylene, a tiny molecule that causes some fruits to ripen.

"Mark played an instrumental role in designing the genetic experiments that identified the first ethylene resistant mutations, which subsequently led to the identification of the first ethylene receptor," Hangarter said.

Estelle is IU's 11th current member of the National Academy of Sciences and the university's 19th current member of NAS's parent organization, the National Academies, a non-profit entity established by the U.S. Congress to provide government officials with the very best knowledge science and medicine have to offer. Other recently elected members of the NAS include plant biologist and former IUB Biology Chair Jeffrey Palmer (in 2000), IUB political scientist Elinor Ostrom, and IU School of Medicine oncologist Lawrence Einhorn (both in 2001).

"IU's academic reputation rests on the strength and accomplishments of its faculty. Mark Estelle is one of our shining stars," said IU President Adam W. Herbert. "His election as a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences is a tribute to his brilliance. This accomplishment also brings great honor to the university as a whole. We are very fortunate that Professor Estelle has made Indiana University his academic home. I am very proud to join his colleagues in extending to him our warmest and most enthusiastic congratulations!"

Estelle attended the University of Alberta, where he earned a B.S. in genetics in 1978 and a Ph.D. in genetics in 1983. He is currently a professor of biology and holds the Miller Chair in Plant Biology at IU Bloomington. He was a research associate of the Michigan State University-U.S. Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory (1983-86). He won the revered Kumho International Science Award in Plant Molecular Biology in 2006 and was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2003. Estelle has published 83 papers on the genetic, molecular biological, and biochemical properties of fruit flies and Arabidopsis, and is the editor of the journal Plant Cell. He has been invited to give well over 100 talks about his work before academic and industry colleagues.

The National Academy of Sciences press release about this year's class of 72 fellows is here:

To speak with biologists Estelle, Innes, Hangarter, or Raff, please contact David Bricker, IU Media Relations, at 812-856-9035 or To speak with IU President Adam Herbert, please contact Larry MacIntyre at 812-856-1172 or