In 2001, the scientific community hadn't yet confirmed many molecular details about plant autophagy. Decades earlier, the process had been discovered in animals. But the earth’s 391,000 plant species — from soaring redwoods and fragrant gardenias, to microscopic plankton — had yet to reveal which genes and intracellular activities were controlling this vital plant digestive process.
That same year, plant scientist Diane Bassham pitched a bold idea as she interviewed for a faculty-research position in the Department of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology at Iowa State University. Bassham proposed that her primary research project would focus on searching for plant autophagy, with the goal of someday discovering the genes that controlled the process.