In a world where resources for food production are becoming increasingly scarce, Dr. Martin Yanofsky and his research group have devised new genetic procedures that can dramatically increase seed yield in fruit crops. Yanofsky’s career spans more than 20 years at UC San Diego with the majority of his tenure focused on understanding the genetic control of flower and fruit development.

In 2008, this basic genetic research attained new levels of recognition when the National Academy of Sciences elected Yanofsky into their prestigious group. With 35 invention disclosures at UC San Diego’s Technology Transfer Office and 22 patents to his credit, Yanofsky has an impressive patent portfolio that has caught the attention of industry commercialization partners.

As an undergraduate student in 1974, Yanofsky arrived at UC San Diego uncertain about his major. In his freshman year, he began working in the lab of Professor Don Helinski during winter break. Although initially assigned to simple tasks, working in the lab was a turning point in Yanofsky’s career path. From washing lab dishes to mixing solutions, then assisting with experiments, Yanofsky progressed to his future as a researcher. He has had an exceptionally successful career, from obtaining his Ph.D. from the University of Washington, to his postdoctoral training in plant biology at Caltech, to joining the faculty at the UC San Diego Cell and Developmental Biology Department.

More recently, Yanofsky served as chair of the Cell and Develop-mental Biology Department from 2006 to 2010. While it proved a challenge to balance his research, teaching, and administrative duties, Yanofsky said he “enjoyed representing the faculty and liked having an influence on the future of the department by hiring amazing faculty.”

The work from Yanofsky’s lab continues to revolve around understanding fruit development. Yanofsky has developed several technologies that could significantly increase seed yield—something he refers to as pod shatter control technology. “We have to find a way to feed a growing population in a sustainable way,” he states. Yanofsky is convinced that genetic technologies offer the potential to increase yields. These technologies would, in turn, allow farmers to be more productive, and to use less water and fewer environmentally unfriendly pesticides and fertilizers.

What are the inventor’s plans for the future? While he’s identified the pieces of the puzzle, Yanofsky now wants to put together a model. “We’ve identified a number of genes that play important roles during fruit development. Now we’re trying to understand how those genes interact in order to build a model for the network of gene activity that controls fruit development.” And other goals? “I’d like to see our basic research applied to crop plants. We need to increase food production and plant science offers a solution.”

For more information on Dr. Yanofsky’s work or any UC San Diego invention, please contact the UC San Diego Office of Technology Transfer at invent@ucsd.edu.