Jerry Kermicle, an emeritus professor in the Laboratory of Genetics, has been named the 2020 recipient of the R. Emerson Lifetime Maize Genetics Award. Over more than 50 years, Kermicle made many contributions to the basic understanding of genetics, including discoveries that improve corn as an agricultural crop, and he continues to publish his work.
Kermicle’s work includes analyzing the structure and behavior of genes in corn. He described the first example of single-gene imprinting in any organism, in which gene expression differs depending on whether the gene came from the male or female parent, and was a pioneer in this field that now has many implications for health and development in mammals. Using teosinte, a wild cousin of maize, Kermicle found a molecular barrier capable of completely locking out foreign genes, including those from genetically modified corn, avoiding cross pollination between crops.
“The breadth of his interests and expertise in genetics, as well as the number of unique and relevant genetic material he has created, have deepened, in remarkable ways, our understanding of maize genetics,” says UW Agronomy Professor Natalia de Leon in her letter of nomination.
Kermicle joined the UW-Madison faculty in 1963. He earned his PhD from the Laboratory of Genetics, studying under the well-known maize geneticist R. Alexander Brink, who developed hybrid corn for Wisconsin farms.
The R. Emerson Lifetime Maize Genetics Award recognizes individuals for their extraordinary lifetime achievements in maize genetics. The Maize Genetics Cooperative, who sponsors the award, is the preeminent maize genetics organization in the world.