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Professor, Director of the Energy Center, Discovery Park
  • 765-496-1779
  • HANS 301A

Associated website(s): McCann Lab , Publications


(Plant cell and molecular biology; genomics) Plant extracellular matrix and cell differentiation


We recognize the 40 or so different plant cell types by their characteristic shapes and sizes. However, without its cell wall, the naked protoplast is spherical and is not capable of dividing, growing, or becoming specialized for function. Molecules of the cell wall provide mechanical strength, regulate porosity, and control cell-cell adhesion. The functions of the wall are not only mechanical but also biological. Like the animal extracellular matrix, plant cell walls are a source of signaling molecules that elicit a range of cell behaviors, committing the cell to particular developmental programs. The goal of our research is to understand how the molecular machinery of the plant cell wall contributes to cell growth and specialization, and thus to the final stature and form of plants.

The cell wall is a highly organized composite of many different polysaccharides, proteins, and aromatic substances. However, it has been difficult to ascribe specific functions to these molecules. Using Arabidopsis , we hope to define the relationship between genetically-defined changes in plant cell wall-related proteins (biosynthetic, hydrolytic, and structural) and cell wall molecular architecture and structural properties. We are particularly interested in the functions of pectic polysaccharides, some of the most complex biomolecules in nature, in regulating cell expansion.One of the most remarkable examples of cellular differentiation in plants is the construction of tracheary elements, that form a series of connected tubes to transport water and dissolved minerals from the roots to all parts of the plant. These cells are functional corpses, built of highly specialized cell walls. The zinnia mesophyll cell system is a remarkable model system in which we can induce photosynthetic cells harvested from leaves to change cell fate and become tracheary elements in liquid culture. The formation of tracheary elements involves several processes fundamental to plant development, including cell division, signal transduction, cell wall synthesis and deposition, lignification and programmed cell death. Using the zinnia system, we have identified over 600 genes that are involved in tracheary element formation. We are studying the roles of some of these genes in determining cell fate, in coordinating cell proliferation and differentiation, and in building the thick hoops of secondary wall material that are characteristic of tracheary elements, using both zinnia, the engine for gene discovery, and Arabidopsis , the model genetic system.


Ph.D., University of East Anglia, 1990


Fellow of American Society of Plant Biologists Award, 2018

Purdue's Seeds of Success Award (for grants over $1M), 2016

Purdue's Seeds of Success Award, 2015

Purdue's Seeds of Success Award, 2010

Purdue's Seeds of Success Award, 2009

Purdue College of Science Leardership Award, 2008

Purdue's Seeds of Success Award, 2005

Honors and Appointments

  • Member, US DOE Oppenheimer Energy Sciences Leadership Group, 2017-2018
  • Co-Chair/Chair, Gordon Research Conference, Plant Metabolic Engineering, 2017/2019
  • Panel member, GAO Advanced Biofuels, National Academies, 2016
  • Elected member, Board of Directors, American Society of Plant Biology, 2015-present
  • Co-organiser, DOE-BES "Cell Walls" workshop, 2014
  • Member, DOE Office of Science, Council for Chemical and Biochemical Sciences, 2012-2016
  • Member, National USDA-DOE Biomass Research and Develpment Technical Advisory Committee, 2011-2016
  • Member, American Society of Plant Biology, Science Policy Committee, 2010-2014
  • Member, Energy and Environment Commission for policy recommendations in Indiana, Indiana University, 2010-2011
  • Panel member, NSF Integrative Organismal Systems, 2010
  • DOE Knowledgebase Workshop participant, co-lead for plant biology section, 2010
  • Scientific Advisory Board Member for 11th International Cell Wall Meeting, Copenhage, Denmark, 2007
  • EPOBIO Advisory Board Member, a European consortium on useful products from plants, 2006-present
  • Stanford University Global Climate and Energy Program, 2007
  • DOE Committee of Visitors, Energy Biosciences, 2005
  • NSF-Cellular Organization panel member, 2004-2007

Editorial Board

  • Global Change Biology - Bioenergy, Monitoring Editor, 2008-2013
  • Plant Physiology, Monitoring Editor, 2008-2012
  • Planta , Editorial board member, 2000-2007

Invited Faculty Presentations, Conferences and Seminars

  • Phenome 2017, Tucson, AZ, 2017
  • Keynote Speaker: 4th Frontiers in Biorefining, Saint Simons Island, GA, 2016
  • Keynote Speaker: 5th Pan-American Congress in Plants and Bioenergy, Santa Fe, NM, 2016
  • 14th International Cell Wall meeting, Chania, Crete, 2016
  • 38th Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals, Society for Industrial Microbiology, Baltimore, MD, 2016
  • Energy Frontiers Research Centers (EFRC) - C3Bio technical review, Washington DC, 2016
  • 2nd EFRC Summit and Forum, Washinton DC, 2016
  • Keynote Speaker: Gordon Research Conference - Plant metabolic engineering, Waterville Valley, NH, 2015
  • American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting, Boston, MA, 2015
  • DOE Bioenergy Workshop, 2016
  • 4th Pan-American Congress in Plants and Bioenergy, Guelph, Canada, 2014
  • DOE Cell Walls workshop, Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, Athens, GA, 2014
  • 36th Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals, Portland, OR, 2013
  • Inaugural Roddam Narasinha Distinguished Lecture, Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, India, 2013
  • Argonne National Laboratory, Chicago, IL, 2013
  • Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, 2013
  • DOE Physical Biosciences Meeting, Bolger Center, MD, 2012
  • 3rd Pan-American Congress in Plants and Bioenergy, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2012
  • DOE Joint Genome Institute Workshop, Washington DC, 2012
  • Mitre Corporation, Department of Defense Workshop, McLean, VA, 2012
  • EFRC - C3Bio technical review, Baltimore, MD, 2012
  • Growing the Future 4, John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK, 2012
  • Energy Biosciences Institute, UC-Berkely, CA, 2012
  • Laboratório Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia do Bioetanol, Campinas, Brazil, 2012
  • Institute of Biochemistry and Biohysics, Kazan, Russia, 2012
  • Duke Energy Foundation, Plainfield, IN, 2012
  • Colorado State University, Boulder, CO, 2012
  • Washington University in St. Louis, MO, 2012

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