Luca Comai

Luca Comai Elected to the National Academy of Sciences

Luca Comai, a distinguished professor at the University of California, Davis, has recently been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one of the most prestigious honors a scientist can achieve. The NAS announced the election of 120 members and 23 international members on May 2nd, including three professors from UC Davis. Comai's election to the academy recognizes his outstanding contributions to original research and underscores his expertise and leadership in the scientific community.

“Luca is a dedicated researcher and teacher who has made significant contributions to diverse aspects of plant genetics,” said Distinguished Professor and Director of the Genome Center Richard Michelmore. “This recognition is well deserved.”

A Career of Innovation and Impact in Science

Comai is a renowned plant biologist and geneticist who has made significant contributions to the development of crops resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, which is commonly known as Roundup. His work at Calgene Inc has helped advance agricultural biotechnology. In his academic career, he has researched a wide range of areas including bacterial plasmid genetics, plant biotechnology, genetics and genomics of polyploidy and aneuploidy, and sex-determination. He co-developed TILLING, a targeted mutation identification method.

Since joining UC Davis in 2006, his lab has focused on functional genomics and genome analysis, with a specific interest in investigating the genomics of plants with unusual genomes, such as those with extra chromosomes. Additionally, his research explores the regulation of chromosomes and the discovery of mutations in plant genes. His research aims to understand the mechanisms behind plant genome stability and develop methods to engineer genomes more efficiently by manipulating those mechanisms.

Comai has published over 200 scientific contributions, mostly papers in prestigious journals, including Science Nature, PNAS, and Plant Cell, but also patents for key biotechnological inventions. His groundbreaking research has earned him multiple prestigious accolades, such as the ASPB Innovation Prize for Agricultural Technology (2017), the University of Bologna Honorary Fellow of Institute of Advanced Studies (2016), and the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences Faculty Research Award (2015).

An Advocate for Science Education and Outreach

Comai is not only a highly accomplished researcher but also a renowned teacher. He uses hand-drawn cartoon models to help his students understand critical concepts in a visually engaging way. Comai has also created a series of mini-lecture videos under the name @Genetics101, which have garnered almost half a million views and thousands of subscribers. His innovative and engaging teaching approach has earned him a College of Biological Sciences faculty teaching award in 2017. In recognition of his exceptional scholarship, teaching, and service to the university and the public, Comai was awarded the prestigious title of Distinguished Professor in 2022.

As someone who worked under Luca Comai for over a decade, I have seen firsthand his unwavering commitment to our professional growth. He consistently provided us with opportunities to expand our skills and education under his leadership. Luca would often humorously refer to us as his bosses and jokingly admit to not knowing what was going on, encouraging others to listen to our team and ideas. This helped foster a collaborative and supportive work environment based on trust and mutual respect.

Comai's election to the academy is a testament to the importance of his research and its impact on the scientific community and society as a whole. Despite his impressive accomplishments, Comai remains a down-to-earth and approachable scientist who is always willing to share his knowledge and passion for science with others. He is an inspiration to many and a key contributor to the field of plant molecular genetics.

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