Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Bennett, Joan Wennstrom
Location Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick
Primary Field Animal, Nutritional and Applied Microbial Sciences
Secondary Field Microbial Biology
 Election Citation
Bennett successfully defined the genetics, biosynthesis, and interrelationships of various Aspergillus aflatoxins. Her research provides a useful model for other polyketide secondary metabolites and opens the possibilities for reducing these poisons in foods and the environment.
 Research Interests
The Bennett laboratory studies the genetics and physiology of filamentous fungi. In addition to mycotoxins and secondary metabolites, the focus is on the volatile organic compounds emitted by fungi. These low molecular weight compounds are responsible for the familiar odors associated with the growth of molds and mushrooms. Some of them function as semiochemicals for insects while others serve as developmental signals for fungi. The Bennett lab has tested individual fungal VOCs in model systems, with the intent of providing a physiological basis for the hypothesis that volatile mold metabolites might be involved in "sick building syndrome." For example, 1-octen-3-ol ("mushroom alcohol") functions as a neurotoxin in Drosophila melanogaster and causes growth retardation in Arabidopsis thaliana. In other studies, we have demonstrated that living cultures of Trichoderma, a known biocontrol fungus, can enhance plant growth in the absence of physical contact between the plant and the fungus. In addition to her laboratory research, Joan is active in efforts that involve diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially with respect to women in science, engineering, and medicine.

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