James C. Carrington was born in Redondo Beach, CA, in 1960. In 1982, he obtained a B.S. degree in plant sciences from the University of California at Riverside, where he conducted undergraduate research with Bill Dawson. In 1986, he received a Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from the University of California at Berkeley under the tutelage of Jack Morris. Upon graduation, he obtained a post-doctoral fellowship from National Institutes of Health for research in Bill Dougherty’s lab in the Plant Pathology Department at North Carolina State University. In 1987, he moved with Dougherty to the Department of Microbiology at Oregon State University. In 1988, he accepted an appointment as assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University, and there he rose through the ranks to professor. In 1997, Carrington moved to the Institute of Biological Chemistry at Washington State University. In 2001, he accepted his current position as professor and director of the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing at Oregon State University.
Carrington has made pioneering contributions in the area of RNA virus-host interactions in plants. Through biochemical and genetic analyses of viral genomes, he has revealed mechanisms of sequence-specific polyprotein processing and showed the multifunctional roles of viral and host proteins in genome replication, intercellular movement, and defense suppression. His codiscovery of viral suppressors of RNA silencing led to a paradigm shift in our view of plant susceptibility to viruses and provided the most compelling evidence for a natural function of RNA silencing. Subsequent discoveries revealed how silencing suppressors inhibit antiviral defense and interfere with endogenous small RNA-directed pathways.
Carrington has also made seminal contributions that revealed the composition and function of small RNA-based gene silencing pathways in plants. He was one of the first to sequence and categorize plant small RNAs, including microRNAs and various classes of small interfering RNAs. These classes were shown to form through distinct biogenesis pathways and to regulate genes or repeat loci at the posttranscriptional and transcriptional levels. He showed that plant microRNAs serve as guides for irreversible cleavage of target RNAs, a fundamentally different mode of action than that of animal microRNAs. This led Carrington to develop widely used assays to identify and validate microRNA targets. He and his collaborators identified the first biological roles for microRNAs in plant growth and development. Carrington and collaborators also showed how paralogous Dicer-like proteins and RNA-dependent RNA polymerases specialized to form functionally diverse small RNAs and how novel small RNA regulators are spawned de novo through inverted duplication events. These achievements have distinguished Carrington as a leader in the RNA-based biology of plants.
Carrington’s contributions are widely recognized by the scientific community. He received an National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1991, the APS Ruth Allen Award in 2000, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2004, Sigma Xi Researcher of the Year for the Oregon State University chapter in 2007, and a MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health in 2008, in recognition of superior competence and outstanding productivity in research. Carrington was recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most prestigious honors that can be made to a scientist in the United States.
Carrington has an exceptional record of professional service to the plant virology and plant sciences communities throughout his career. He served as editor of many journals, including Virology, Journal of Virology, and The Plant Cell, and currently serves on the Editorial Board of PLoS Biology. He has served on two national committees for the National Research Council and on several panels and study sections for federal granting programs. He is a valued mentor and has trained many graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, who have gone on to successful scientific careers of their own. He has been an extremely effective leader in the molecular life sciences at Oregon State University and has been instrumental in building a computationally based genomics program in that institution. He has been an active member of APS throughout his career.