Andy Pereira, former research scientist at the Dutch Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries at Wageningen, has joined the faculty at theVirginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech as a professor.

Pereira’s research focuses on looking at how plants respond to environmental stress, in particular identifying the genes and mechanisms involved in this often complex relationship. By using a “genome biology” approach to look at genes that have retained similar functions over time in different plant species, Pereira’s work at VBI will provide valuable information on how different plant species have adapted to cope with severe, external influences, such as drought and disease.

In addition, this research will help uncover more details regarding the cross-talk between plant’s adaptive responses to different physical and biological stresses commonly encountered in the environment. It will allow scientists to build a complete picture of the interaction network between the functions of plant genes and environmental stress.

“Using the technologies we have been developing over the years, we have been able to identify many genes involved in the regulation and improvement of stress tolerance as they apply to factors such as drought, salinity, and disease resistance” said Pereira. “At VBI, we will be looking to develop further these state-of-the-art technologies that we believe can contribute to the complementary research efforts of the VBI community, other researchers at Virginia Tech as well as international partners looking at plant stress.”

“Studies on the genetics of plant pathways have revealed considerable gene redundancy and the research of my group involves the application of what is referred to as ‘a gain-of-function’ approach,” Pereira said. “This method allows you to get a handle on many stress-related plant genes that cannot be studied by conventional genetic approaches, for example gene knock-outs or looking at natural variation. We will be using a large library of the model plant Arabidopsis for this purpose, which allows for investigation of stress-related genes in a highly efficient manner and on a very large scale.”

“Dr. Pereira’s work integrates perfectly into a key part of VBI’s research platform emphasizing transdisciplinary science and plant-environment interactions,” said VBI Executive and Scientific Director Bruno Sobral. “With the institute’s strong emphasis on team-based science, Dr. Pereira’s focus on stress systems biology will help enhance our ongoing work involving interactions between plants and pathogens and open up exciting new research opportunities to identify regulators of metabolic pathways as well as uncover novel gene and protein networks underlying biological processes.”

Pereira received his Ph.D. in 1986 from Iowa State University, where he completed research work in collaboration with the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) für Züchtungsforschung in Cologne, Germany. This research led to the molecular isolation of the maize transposon Enhancer (Suppressor-Mutator); the molecular characterization and development of this transposon to be used in the isolation of many maize genes.

Following post-doctoral work at MPI, he served as a staff scientist with the Dutch Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries at Wageningen in The Netherlands, working on the development of maize transposons as tools for tagging genes in heterologous plants like Arabidopsis, potato and rice. He worked at Wageningen for 17 years as a group leader in various positions and institutes, serving most recently at the Plant Research International within the Wageningen University and Research Centre.

During his research career he has obtained a number of awards including the ‘Otto Hahn Medal’ from the Max-Planck Society for Excellent Young Scientist and an ‘Excellent Scientist’ Award from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture for the period 1999-2005. He has coordinated a number of international projects on the functional genomics of rice and Arabidopsis, which were funded by the European Union and the Generation Challenge program.

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech is the most comprehensive university in the Commonwealth of Virginia and is among the top research universities in the nation. Today, Virginia Tech’s eight colleges are dedicated to quality, innovation, and results through teaching, research, and outreach activities. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other campus centers in Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries in 180 academic degree programs.

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