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The Simon Chan Endowment Drive

About Simon Chan


A self-proclaimed fundamental biologist, Simon Chan, Associate Professor of Plant Biology, was interested in better understanding how chromosome inheritance works—how genetic material is passed from parent to offspring.

Working with the model organism Arabidopsis, he came upon an unexpected discovery that quickly proved to have a very wide-reaching and powerful effect on the agriculture industry. Dr. Chan discovered a way to grow plants from seeds and have them be genetically identical to the parent. When such plants are bred, they will pass the desired trait, such as pest resistance, fruit flavor or drought tolerance, to all of their offspring. To achieve this, plants usually have to be inbred for several generations before a plant is produced that will breed true—a time consuming and labor intensive process. Dr. Chan's discovery eliminated this process entirely by providing a way to breed plants with genes from only one parent, making it possible to breed true without generations of inbreeding—an ability that is highly valued by the agriculture industry.


In June 2011, Dr. Chan was one of two UC Davis scientists selected for the first-ever class of HHMI-GBMF Investigators, funded jointly by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to support promising research in plant sciences. He planned to use the HHMI-GBMF award to expand his work to crop plants such as tomatoes and Chinese cabbage. Anne Britt, Professor of Plant Biology, is carrying this research forward.


Simon Chan was a true humanitarian who impacted the lives of human beings across the globe—most of whom he never had the chance to meet—by seeking to improve the quality of life for populations frequently impacted by drought, famine and loss of food crops. He was a mentor in his lab, helping to train and guide numerous young scholars to achieve their goals and make impactful discoveries. And, perhaps most memorably, his exhuberant smile made an impression on every person who was lucky enough to know or work with him.

Although we lost Simon far too soon, his discoveries and legacy will live on with the Simon Chan Memorial Endowment. Created initially to fund graduate student research, the Department of Plant Biology endeavors to raise $2.5 million to establish a faculty chair as well, ensuring that the spirit of Simon's work continues to thrive in our college.