David Mendoza-Cozatl, assistant professor of plant sciences at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, University of Missouri, has received a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program to continue his research into the molecular transport of heavy metals in plants.
The NSF CAREER Program supports “junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.”
The funding will allow Mendoza-Cozatl to continue his research to understand how plants take up, accumulate and transport trace metals between roots and leaves and from leaves to seeds.
Plants and seeds are the main dietary source of essential nutrient metals such as zinc, iron, manganese and copper, Mendoza-Cozatl said. “However, plant-based products are also the main entry point for toxic elements like cadmium, arsenic, mercury and lead,” he continued. “Some of the detrimental effects of heavy metals on human health have been linked to diabetes, hypertension, myocardial infarction, diminished lung function and certain types of cancer.”
Understanding the molecular mechanisms by which plants mobilize and accumulate heavy metals will have two major impacts on human health, Mendoza-Cozatl said. First, it will enhance the nutritional value and safety of plant products by ensuring the accumulation of essential metals while avoiding the retention of toxic metals. Second, the identification of genes and molecular mechanisms that allow plants to tolerate and accumulate toxic metals will facilitate the engineering of plants for bioremediation purposes.
Mendoza-Cozatl earned his PhD in Biochemistry at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Coyoacán, Mexico City. After completing his post-doctoral training at the University of California-San Diego, he joined CAFNR in Sept. 2011. His position is supported by a partnership between the Division of Plant Sciences, the Bond Life Sciences Center, and the Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG), which is part of MU’s Food for the 21st Century Program.
“We are proud of David’s accomplishment in receiving this prestigious award” said Bob Sharp, IPG Director. “David’s program on heavy metal transport in plants is a key component of the effort to expand our strengths in plant stress biology.”
The National Science Foundation is a United States government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. NSF funds approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by the United States’ colleges and universities.
The NSF calls the Early Career award its most prestigious effort to recognize researchers who in the beginning stages of their careers.