Esther van der Knaap
Distinguished Research Professor 2022
Esther van der Knaap, professor in the Department of Horticulture and Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics & Genomics, has made revolutionary advances in deciphering the molecular mechanisms affecting the shape and size of agricultural produce. Her pioneering studies have helped reveal the complex genetic changes that drive agricultural advances from historical to modern times. In research funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, van der Knaap and her colleagues have analyzed the genomes of several hundred tomato varieties, providing novel insight into the drivers of morphological advances in modern day crops. Her groundbreaking discoveries of the genes that affect tomato’s appearance leads the way to similar discoveries in other vegetable and fruit crops. Van der Knaap’s research findings provide crucial genetic and molecular information to breeders, contributing to the industry’s $2 billion impact on the U.S. economy.