Distinguished Research Professor 2021
Debra Mohnen, Georgia Athletic Association Professor in Complex Carbohydrate Research and professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, has made internationally recognized contributions to the field of plant cell-wall glycobiology with significant impacts on biomass and bioenergy research. In 75 peer-reviewed publications, which have generated more than 500 citations annually since 2013, she has advanced understanding of complex carbohydrates (glycans) that form the outer layer of plant cells. Pectin is essential for plant growth and form, yet the biosynthesis of this molecule was essentially a mystery. She took a biochemical approach, establishing assays, purifying enzymes and identifying the associated genes. She also discovered novel aspects of cell-wall biosynthesis that have transformed the field, including discoveries that pectin has many more forms and roles than previously expected. Greater understanding of pectin biosynthesis in multiple crops is enabling plant modification to increase agricultural output at a time of sustainability crisis for the world.