Dr. John Finer was awarded the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for In Vitro Biology earlier this month. The Society for In Vitro Biology Lifetime Achievement award, established in 1989, was created in order to recognize outstanding late-career scientists who have made significant contributions to the field of in vitro biology and/or in the development of novel technologies that have advanced in vitro biology. John is currently a professor in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science however his academic path did not start off in plant science, “In college, I started out in Zoology as my father wanted me to be a MD. After the fetal pig dissection lab, I changed my major to Botany. I liked plants and worked for Natorp’s nursery in Cincinnati when I was in high school.” The road to finding your right path can often be a serendipitous one, as was John’s journey to the research side of plant science,
“When I was in college, I knew that I liked plants but I thought that I would work for a nursery or start a landscaping service. The last semester of my senior year, my tuition check was “lost” and my schedule was cancelled. I became waitlisted for an auto mechanics class that I needed for graduation (and because my car was not very reliable) and I had to find another 3-hour class. One of my options was research hours in a lab which I reluctantly took. That experience changed my life – I met a graduate student in the lab who was an incredible mentor. He recognized my ability and encouraged me to apply to graduate school. I also figured out that I loved lab work and working with plant cells as much as whole plants.”
After completing a Botany degree from Miami University, John went on to complete his MS and PhD at Texas A&M University in Plant Physiology.
John has been at Ohio State for thirty-two years and during that time John’s main accomplishments are the establishment of embryogenic suspension cultures systems for many plants, including soybean and cotton. His lab at Ohio State was the first university lab to report consistent generation of transgenic soybean, cotton and maize using particle bombardment of embryogenic suspension cultures. He developed the “10A40N” medium, which later became known as “Finer and Nagasawa” medium for growing embryogenic cultures of soybean.
“When I started here over 30 years ago, I believed that my stay here would be short. I had opportunities and offers to move on but have stayed. It turns out that this is a great place to work; I have incredible freedom to do what I want and have been able to change the direction of my research whenever I wanted.”
In the early 1990’s, he constructed an inexpensive and easy-to-assemble gene gun, which he called the PIG (Particle Inflow Gun). The PIG is in widespread use for gene introduction in labs all over the world. He also developed SAAT (Sonication Assisted Agrobacterium-mediated Transformation), which also remains in widespread use in many plant transformation laboratories. SAAT was patented and licensed, and has become a base technology for many of the commercial transgenics in the field today. While John continues to work to improve tissue culture and transformation efficiencies in plants (mostly soybean), his more recent research efforts have shifted to isolation and characterization of promoters using GFP and genome editing approaches. He has developed a toolbox of soybean promoters and has characterized many of them, identifying the regulatory elements within the promoters that contribute to gene expression. A Glycine max ubiquitin (Gmubi) promoter has received the most attention, and elements within both the promoter and the 5’UTR intronic region were identified.
During his time at Ohio State, John has taught many classes, most recently focusing on a graduate course, HCS 7625 Plant Breeding and Biotechnology. Acting as a mentor and advisor to graduate students, post-docs, visiting scientists and sabbatical scientists, John has guided many students in their own careers in plant science. “I am most proud of the successful students, post-docs and visitors that I have mentored in my lab. Many have gone on to very productive careers in a variety of different fields.”Undergraduate and graduate students work in the Ohio State Plant Transformation Laboratory, or Finer Laboratory. The research efforts in the Finer Laboratory are focused on genetic transformation and transgene expression in crop plants.
John’s advice to future students interested in plant science, “You need to love what you do enough so that you don’t complain when you are working long days. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and try new things. For graduate students, read the current literature!”
Congratulations Dr. John Finer!
For information about the Society for In Vitro Biology, click here.