Elizabeth Pilon-Smits

My name is Elizabeth Pilon-Smits. I am a Professor in the Biology Department at Colorado State University.

Originally I’m from the Netherlands.  I studied in Utrecht and received my Ph.D. in 1992 at Utrecht University (https://www.uu.nl/en) in the Department of Plant Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, for work on evolutionary aspects of Crassulacean Acid Metabolism.  After my Ph.D. I  worked for 2 years as a postdoc at Utrecht University, in the Department of Molecular Cell Biology, studying the drought resistance of transgenic plants that were engineered to produce the sugars fructans or trehalose. I continued my studies on the use of plant genetic engineering to increase plant drought resistance at UC Berkeley, where I joined Norman Terry’s lab (Department of Plant Biology) in 1994. While in the Terry lab, I became interested in phytoremediation: the use of plants to clean up environmental pollution. I started a new project involving genetic engineering approaches to study and improve plant trace element accumulation, for use in phytoremediation.

Stanleya Pinnata is a hyperaccumulator of selenium and one of the plants I study.

As of 1998, I continue to do phytoremediation research at Colorado State University. In my lab, we have studied both inorganics (selenium, metals) and organics (PAHs, herbicides), but currently, the main focus is on selenium. We are interested in how plants metabolize, accumulate and tolerate selenium, but also in ecological and evolutionary aspects of selenium hyperaccumulation by plants: why do certain plants accumulate so much selenium in their tissues, and how does this affect their ecology?

Together with Marinus Pilon, I have also studied plant mechanisms of iron-sulfur cluster biosynthesis, and the potential effects of the involved proteins on plant selenium tolerance and accumulation.

Since 2017 I have a new interest: the use of hemp for phytoremediation and biofortification of Se, and potentially other elements or pollutants.

For more detailed information about our research, see the Pilon-Smits lab publication list (with links to PDFs of published papers).

I teach a course on Phytoremediation (BZ572 – for phytoremediation web pages created by students click here), as well as Plant Physiology courses BZ440 (lecture course – also offered as an online course) and BZ441 (a lab and recitation course). In the past, I have also taught Life102 and a Plant Biotechnology seminar. Each course has its own website, accessible to enrolled students.

If you would like more information about our research or are interested in working with me, please email me at epsmits@colostate.edu