Ronald Phillips

x2010 Knowledge

One of the most distinguished faculty members at the University of Minnesota, Ron Phillips is internationally recognized for his groundbreaking discoveries in genetics and genomics which have laid a foundation for improvements in crop breeding and for sparking important advances in plant sciences. 

After earning his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Purdue University, a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, and postdoctoral training at Cornell University, Phillips began his illustrious faculty career at the University of Minnesota in 1967. Phillips’ career has coupled plant genetics and molecular biology techniques to enhance our basic understanding of the biology of corn plants. These milestones include being the first laboratory to regenerate whole corn plants from cells in tissue culture, a significant contribution that allowed for the development of genetic engineering in cereal crops.

Phillips’ insight, intellect and ability to envision the future are hallmarks of his scientific and academic contributions. As fellow Siehl laureate (2004 academic) and University of Missouri colleague Jerry Nelson wrote in his letter of support, “It was very interesting to watch (Phillips’) grasp of the technical potential of biotechnology very early, and the stepwise transition of his efforts from national leadership in classical cytogenetics, to physiological genetics, to eventually his international stature in molecular genetics, all with applications to crop breeding and improved food supply.”

In 1991, Phillips was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences, an honor second only to receiving a Nobel Prize. At the University of Minnesota he became a Regents Professor in 1993—the highest level of recognition given to faculty—and for 10 years he has held the McKnight Presidential Chair in genomics. In 2007 Phillips received the Wolf Prize in Agriculture, a prestigious international award based in Israel to promote science and art for the benefit of mankind. Over the course of his career he has advised 55 M.S. and Ph.D. students and 23 post-doctoral scientists. In addition, he has served on numerous editorial boards, edited six books and published over 150 refereed journal articles, 75 chapters, and 355 abstracts.