Maarten Chrispeels came to the US in 1960 for graduate study at University of Illinois. After receiving his PhD in Agronomy, he became a postdoctoral fellow at the DOE Plant Research Laboratory at Michigan State University and studied plant biochemistry. His active research career at UCSD spanned 42 years. Professor Chrispeels was elected to membership in the US National Academy of Sciences in 1996. For 10 years he served as the Director of the San Diego Center for Molecular Agriculture (SDCMA) on the UCSD campus.
Research in the Chrispeels laboratory concerned the biosynthesis and transport of proteins and glycoproteins in developing legume seeds and focused on storage proteins and lectins. They elucidated the role of the Golgi apparatus in the modification of asparagine-linked glycans and the transport of glycoproteins to protein storage vacuoles. They used transgenic technologies to identify the domains of proteins that allow them to be targeted to vacuoles. This work led to the study of a unique protein in the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) called amylase inhibitor. They showed that this plant defense protein is evolutionarily related to the lectin phytohemagglutinin and used the gene that encodes amylase inhibitor to produce the first insect resistant seeds using genetic engineering. This project was carried out in collaboration with scientists at Purdue University and at the CSIRO in Canberra, Australia.
A year after aquaporins were described in animal cells (by Nobel Laureate Peter Agre’s lab) the Chrispeels lab found homologous proteins in the tonoplasts of plants and aquaporins became the main focus of the lab until Chrispeels’ retirement from research in 2007. The discovery of aquaporins in plants can be said to have revolutionized the study of plant-water relations. Together with his collaborators Chrispeels published some 180 research papers and 50 reviews and book chapters.
For many years Professor Chrispeels taught courses in plant biology at different levels (introductory courses for non-science majors or for science majors, or advanced courses in plant development and plant biotechnology. To aid in teaching he and his former student David Sadava co-wrote or edited several books, including Plants, Food and People (1977), Plants, Genes and Agriculture (1994) and Plants, Genes and Crop Biotechnology (2003). After his retirement from research he continued to teach at the university and became involved in outreach to San Diego area high schools.
For more than 25 years Chrispeels played an active role in the journal Plant Physiology, first as a member of the editorial board, then as an associate member, and from 1990 to 1997 as its Editor in Chief. For 15 years he was involved with the Millennium Science Initiative in Chile and became the convener of the Program Committee that evaluates research proposals from Chilean Scientists. As director of the SDCMA he organized ten major symposia and other events for San Diego area plant biologists. He also produced a colorful 16-page brochure entitled Foods from Genetically Engineered Crops that was widely distributed throughout the world.
His work was recognized by his peers through his election to the US National Academy of Sciences (1996), and receipt of the Stephen Hales Prize of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) in 1996. In 2000 he received a Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Guelph (Canada) and was elected to the rank of Fellow of the ASPB in 2006. In 2007 he became a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 2008 he was elected to Foreign Corresponding membership in the Academia Chilena de Ciencias.
Professor Chrispeels holds several patents, has consulted for a number of biotechnology companies and is the co-founder of two companies: Phylogics (with Dr. Jeffrey Moore) and Arterra Biosciences in Naples, Italy (with Dr. Gabriella Colucci).
Maarten Chrispeels received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and was a postdoctoral fellow at the DOE Plant Research Laboratory at Michigan State University. Professor Chrispeels was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the editor in chief of Plant Physiology.