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University of Missouri

Decoding Drought

National Academy of Sciences member John Boyer joins MU faculty.

John Boyer

When National Academy of Sciences member John Boyer isn’t researching at MU, he’s managing the family farm in Maryland. Photo courtesy of John Boyer.

Growing up on a small beef cattle farm in Maryland, John Boyer knew a little something about genetics. But it wasn’t until he took a plant physiology and genetics course that he realized he could do the same thing with plants. “That was eye‐opening,” Boyer says.

In January 2015, Boyer will begin his appointment in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources as a distinguished research professor. A National Academy of Sciences member, Boyer is a plant physiologist internationally known for his research on how water, or lack thereof, affects growth, photosynthesis and reproduction in plants.

Boyer’s interest in drought and grain losses also started on the family farm. In 1954, a devastating drought almost wiped out the herd. “It made a big impression on me,” he says. His farming experience instilled in him a sense of independence and self‐reliance. “I found those things to be of great value as a scientist. One of the things that comes from that experience is an ability to accept failure — [I’ve] had plenty of that during my career — but you push on and try a different approach.”

Boyer retired in 2005 from the University of Delaware, where he discovered the chemistry of how algae, a close relative to land plants, deal with limited water. He was drawn back into academia when offered a chance to work with MU’s Interdisciplinary Plant Group, a community of nearly 60 researchers across MU’s schools and colleges. “Missouri has a first‐rate plant sciences program that I’ve admired for many years,” Boyer says.

Boyer will spend two months a year at Mizzou researching how corn responds to drought and participating in educational activities. During the rest of the year, Boyer and his wife, Jean, will manage the family farm in Maryland.