Mittler named AAAS Fellow for recognition of contributions to field of plant stress

The Curators’ Distinguished Professor in the Division of Plant Science and Technology was one of five Fellows from Mizzou this spring.

Ron Mittler poses in the Life Sciences Building on the Mizzou campus.

Ron Mittler, a Curators’ Distinguished Professor in the Division of Plant Science and Technology, has been awarded a variety of prestigious honors this spring, including being named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), one of five at Mizzou this spring.

AAAS Fellows are a distinguished cadre of scientists, engineers and innovators who have been recognized for their achievements across disciplines. In a tradition stretching back to 1874, these individuals are elected annually by the AAAS Council. Eligible nominees are members whose efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished. Fellows have included Thomas Edison, W.E.B DuBois, Maria Mitchell, Steven Chu, Ellen Ochoa and Irwin M. Jacobs.

Mittler was recognized for significant breakthroughs in the study of plant responses to stress, stress combination, and the role of reactive oxygen species in stress and cell-to-cell signaling.

“It is very rewarding to me that my scientific work and achievements are recognized by one of the most premier research associations in the country,” he said. “It shows that my work has made an impact and is respected by the scientific community. It is a great feeling, especially knowing that this award also helps my university improve its ranking among other universities worldwide.”

The same week, Mittler received the most prestigious award from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, the Frederick B. Mumford Award for Distinguished Faculty.

“Getting recognized by my college with such an important award is a milestone in my career especially since it coincides with several recent discoveries made in my laboratory,” Mittler said. “These are directly related to agriculture in Missouri and focus on the response of soybean plants to climate change, and in particular combinations of different stresses such as drought and heat. This work is therefore an important part of the mission of CAFNR and Mizzou and could lead to the development of crops with heightened resilience to climate change.”

Mittler’s research focuses on better understanding how cells communicate with each other and how factors such as a warming climate, drought, heat, flooding, air pollution and insect outbreaks affect plant health and yield. His work has helped identify acclimation strategies of different cells under a combination of a variety of stressors. For example, his efforts studying specific proteins in plants led to the discovery of a protein that is also highly expressed in cancer cells, assisting in the development of anti-cancer drugs based on this protein.

“With every discovery we make, more questions open,” he said. “I plan to continue my work and make more contributions that will eventually help in producing better crops with a heightened resilience to global warming and climate change that are starting to have an overall negative impact on agricultural productivity. I hope to do my part in mitigating the impacts of climate change and contribute to global food security.”

He has been on the Thomson Reuters/Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list for the past 10 years; since his recruitment to Mizzou in 2018 he has been cited over 40,000 times, published more than 80 papers and obtained more than $7 million in research funding. Mittler is highly sought as a speaker at international conferences, and was invited to contribute a review by the prestigious journal Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology. 

“Working in Mizzou is highly rewarding,” he said. “The AAAS award required other faculty to nominate me and collect support letters for me and I am highly appreciative of their efforts. This year I was nominated for more awards than I have ever been nominated by faculty of other universities I worked put together. Mizzou is truly a supportive and collaborative university!”

Mittler holds a joint appointment in the Department of Surgery in the MU School of Medicine and is also a principal investigator in the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center.