Biology Professor Dan Pierce Receives Jeffress Trust Award for Research on Bacterium that Causes Tumors in Plants

July 10, 2020

 Note: The photo above was taken prior to March 2020.

UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND — Biology professor B. Daniel Pierce has received a $104,500 award from the Thomas F. and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust to advance his research on a bacterium that causes tumors in plants and destroys billions of dollars of crops each year. Jeffress Trust grants support research in chemical, medical, or other scientific fields.

In addition to studying the plant bacterium, Pierce hopes to create a tool that will allow scientists to replicate the method of infection to bioengineer plants with new genes.

“We are examining a protein found on the membrane of the bacterium that receives signaling molecules from the host plant so the bacterium can initiate the plant infection,” Pierce explains. “We have some great modeling and genetic experiments to show how we think this protein works, but getting atomic-level structural information is the next piece of the puzzle, and this support from the Jeffress program will allow us to add in this piece." 

The award includes support for an undergraduate researcher, salary for a post-baccalaureate fellow, and equipment and supplies. Pierce will be collaborating with Martin Safo at Virginia Commonwealth University, who will receive a $30,000 subaward. Pierce and his students will be using x-ray crystallographic equipment at VCU for their research.

Pierce has taught at the University of Richmond since 2015. He received his bachelor’s degree from Davidson College and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

Pierce is one of four UR faculty to receive Jeffress Trust awards this year.