Dr. Debra Mohnen received her B.A. in biology from Lawrence University (Wisconsin) and her M.S. in botany and Ph.D. in plant biology from the University of Illinois with Ph.D. research conducted largely at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland. She held postdoctoral research associate positions at the USDA’s Richard Russell Research Center and at the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center (CCRC) in Athens, GA where she won an NIH National Research Service Award for her research. She was appointed to the CCRC faculty in September 1990 and is currently Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, adjunct faculty member in the Department of Plant Biology, and member of the Plant Center at UGA. Dr. Mohnen is Focus Area Lead for Plant Biomass Formation and Modification in the DOE-funded BioEnergy Science Center (BESC). She has served on the Committee on the Status of Women in Plant Physiology of the American Society of Plant Physiologists, invited faculty sponsor for the UGA Association for Women in Science (AWIS), past member-at-large in the Cellulose and Renewable Materials Division of the American Chemical Society, and past member of the Council for Chemical and Biochemical Sciences, Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences Division in the Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy. As Co-PI on the NSF-funded “Plant Cell Wall Biosynthesis Research Network” Dr. Mohnen established and continues to direct “CarboSource Services” which provides rare substrates for plant wall polysaccharide synthesis to the research community. Dr. Mohnen was awarded the 2008 Bruce Stone Award by the Plant Polysaccharide Workshop for contributions and promising research in the area of Pectin Biosynthesis. She received the Student Government Association Certificate of Recognition for Outstanding Commitment to the Students of the University of Georgia in 2008 and the Outstanding Faculty Research Mentor award from Division of Biological Sciences, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, University of Georgia in 2012. Dr. Mohnen was Chair of the 2009 Plant Cell Walls Gordon Research Conference, serves as an Editor-in-Chief for Biotechnology for Biofuels, and serves on scientific advisory boards for multiple bioenergy centers. She was elected as an AAAS Fellow in 2013.
Dr. Mohnen’s research focuses on the biosynthesis, function and structure of plant cell wall polysaccharides and glycoconjugates, with emphasis on pectin, matrix polysaccharides and wall proteoglycans.
The research goals include:
*Understanding the structure, biosynthesis and function of wall polymers that contain pectic glycans.
*Improving plant growth and development, and the use and conversion of plant cell wall biomass to biofuels and bioproducts, through modification of wall structure and synthesis.
*Reevaluation of plant cell wall models based on recently identified wall matrix glycan-containing proteoglycan structures, and glycosyltransferase gene family member functionalities, that are inconsistent with current wall models.
The research includes biochemical, chemical, molecular genetic and genomic methods and use of both model systems (e.g. Arabidopsis and rice) and biomass feedstock (e.g. Populus and switchgrass).