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MU Alumna Receives National Distinguished Dissertation Award

Research will open a new field of plant research

December 4th, 2015

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217,

By Amanda Narverud

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Mizzou alumna Jeongmin Choi has received the Council of Graduate Schools/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award for her innovative research in plant sciences. The prestigious national award is given to an individual whose doctoral dissertation makes unusually significant contributions to its discipline. When Choi wrote her dissertation, she was a doctoral candidate in plant sciences from the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

For her dissertation, Choi identified the first extracellular ATP receptor in plants. Her successful identification of the receptor has opened a new field of plant research that explores the interconnections among plant stress, pathogen defense and development.

ATP (adenosine 5’- triphosphate) is the main energy source inside cells and is considered to drive many life processes in plants, animals and humans. ATP is found in high concentrations inside cells. It also can be found secreted outside cells, which is referred to as extracellular ATP. When the molecule is found outside of a cell, it acts as a signaling molecule. ATP receptors are proteins localized on the cell surface to bind ATP from outside the cells and deliver the information inside the cells. Therefore, the identification of ATP receptors is essential in understanding of the cells signaling pathway. Until now, ATP receptors had been characterized in mammals, but receptors in plants had not been identified.

“The interesting part is that the newly identified plant receptor is different from animal receptors,” Choi said. “Although they sense the same molecule, they are actually quite different. The molecule can be released in response to various stress responses and also during development. We believe that the function of this molecule might relate as a danger signal, so that the plant knows that it is in danger.”

Now that the first plant receptor for extracellular ATP is known, it is likely that this receptor exists in a wide range of plant species. According to Choi, extracellular ATP has a role in many plant functions, but especially in how they perceive environmental stresses such as drought and insect feeding. According the Choi’s dissertation advisor, Gary Stacey, Curators Professor of Plant Sciences, Choi was a valued member of her Mizzou laboratory.

“As is so often the case, Jeongmin excelled not only as a researcher, but in many other ways,” Stacey said. “As a lab citizen, as a mentor to undergraduates in the lab, as a leader among her other graduate students and as a teacher, she was a great addition to our laboratory. It was a great pleasure to have her in our laboratory and we fully expect great things from her in the future.”

Choi was recognized in 2014 by the MU Office of Graduate Studies for her outstanding doctoral dissertation research. As the recipient of the MU Graduate Studies Distinguished Doctoral Dissertation Award, she was the first student to be nominated by the University of Missouri for the national Council of Graduate Schools (CGS)/ProQuest award.

“Mizzou has incredibly innovative graduate students who will become the leaders of tomorrow,” Leona Rubin, associate vice chancellor for Graduate Studies said. “One goal of the Office of Graduate Studies is to provide support for students and their academic units in submitting nominations that showcase and promote students and their accomplishments. I think it is telling that in the first year we made a concentrated effort to showcase our students nationally, a Mizzou graduate wins the national Distinguished Dissertation of the Year Award from the Council of Graduate Schools.”

Choi is currently working as a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. as a European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) fellow. EMBO supports post-doctoral research visits to laboratories throughout Europe.