Joan W. Bennett
Joan Wennstrom Bennett has been a Distinguished Professor of Plant Biology and Pathology at Rutgers University since 2006. Prior to coming to Rutgers, she was on the faculty at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, for over thirty years. The Bennett laboratory studies the genetics and physiology of filamentous fungi. In addition to mycotoxins and other secondary metabolites, research focuses on the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by fungi. These low molecular weight compounds are responsible for the familiar odors associated with the molds and mushrooms. Some VOCs function as semiochemicals for insects while others serve as developmental signals for fungi. The Bennett lab has tested individual fungal VOCs in model systems and found that 1-octen-3-ol ("mushroom alcohol") is a neurotoxin in Drosophila melanogaster and causes growth retardation in Arabidopsis thaliana. It also inhibits growth of the fungus that causes "white nose syndrome" in bat populations. In other studies, the Bennett lab has demonstrated that VOCs from living cultures of Trichoderma, a known biocontrol fungus, can enhance plant growth. Investigations on the mechanistic aspects of fungal VOC action are underway using a yeast knock out library. Dr. Bennett also has an active interest in fungal genomics and has been involved in genome projects for Aspergillus flavus, A. fumigatus, A. oryzae and Penicillium expansum.
Dr. Bennett was Associate Vice President for the Office for the Promotion of Women in Science, Engineering and Mathematics ("SciWomen") at Rutgers from 2006-2014 and continues to serve as Senior Faculty Advisor to the group. She is a past Editor-in-Chief of Mycologia; a past Vice President of the British Mycological Society and the International Union of Microbiological Societies; as well as past President of the American Society for Microbiology and the Society for Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2005.