Michael Thomashow, Ph.D.

Michael Thomashow

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University Distinguished Professor; MSU Foundation Professor
Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences



Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, CA


Dr. Thomashow received his A.B and Ph.D. degrees from UCLA majoring in microbiology and then conducted postdoctoral research as a Damon Runyon-Walter Cancer Fund Research Fellow at the University of Washington.  His first faculty position was at Washington State University followed by his moving to MSU where he has been since 1986.

Prior to Thomashow moving to MSU, he worked on the plant pathogen Agrobacterium tumefacians, which causes crown gall disease.  As a postdoctoral fellow and assistant professor, he and his colleagues discovered that crown gall disease involves the transfer of DNA from the bacterium to the plant where it becomes integrated into the plant nuclear genome and is expressed resulting in the biosynthesis of nutrients that the bacteria use for growth.  These studies demonstrated that Agrobacterium is a natural genetic engineer of plants. Subsequent work by others converted Agrobacterium into the primary system to produce GMO crops.

Upon arrival at MSU, Thomashow initiated a new line of investigation: determining the molecular basis for plant freezing tolerance.  His research led to the discovery of the first freezing tolerance pathway in plants—the CBF Pathway—and the identification of multiple transcription factors that regulate expression of the pathway and in response to low temperature, the circadian clock and photoperiod. Current research focuses on determining how plants sense low temperature and activate the CBF and other regulatory pathways that promote cold tolerance and increase immunity against bacterial pathogens.  Thomashow’s goal is to further basic understanding of abiotic and biotic stress response pathways providing information that can be used to improve plant resilience.

Dr. Thomashow has served as President of the American Society for Plant Biologists, Director of the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory, and Founding Director of the Plant Resilience Institute.

Research Interests:

Low temperature regulation of genes that impart freezing tolerance and immunity against bacterial pathogens.

Affiliations / Memberships / Awards:

  • Fellow, American Academy of Microbiology
  • Fellow, American Society of Plant Biologists
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Recipient, ASPB Stephen Hales Prize
  • Recipient, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award
  • Elected, Member of the National Academy of Sciences

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