Professor Peter McCourt received his BSc (Honours) and MSc in genetics from the University of Alberta before moving to the Plant Research Laboratory (PRL) at Michigan State University to complete his PhD in plant genetics under the supervision of Professor Chris Somerville. After completing his doctorate in three years, Professor McCourt moved to MIT where he completed a three-year postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Professor Gerry Fink at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. He was then awarded a prestigious Mobusho Visiting Professorship to the Institute of Biochemical Regulation at Nagoya University, Japan, which he held for two years before moving to the University of Toronto as an Assistant Professor in 1991.
At U of T, Professor McCourt was made an Associate Professor in 1996 and a Full Professor in 2001. During this time, he published 58 peer-reviewed papers of which 13 are in science-, nature- or cell-based journals. He has also published eight book chapters and two Annual Reviews. During his time at U of T, Professor McCourt has spoken at 65 international meetings, of which seven were keynote presentations, and has given 56 research seminars. He has trained 16 postdoctoral fellows and 15 graduate students of which 10 have now gone on to tenure track positions. Between 2001 and 2012 he was an editor for The Plant Journalone of the top-tier plant research journals, and between 2005 and 2012 he was on the advisory council for the RIKEN Plant Science Center (PSC). Established in 2000, the PSC has 20 principal investigators and is considered by Thomson Reuters as the premiere research institute for basic plant sciences in Japan.
Key achievements and awards
1998: Professor McCourt was the first to demonstrate that genetic engineering could be used to enhance drought tolerance in plants. This work was published in two papers in the journal Science and was later confirmed in 2005 to have utility in the crop canola by Performance Plants Inc. (PPI). PPI has now developed this Yield Protection Technology (YPT) in corn, soybean and cotton.
2000-2010: Professor McCourt was awarded a Senior NSERC-lndustrial Research Chair (IRC} in plant biotechnology for 10 years. This award recognizes international leaders with exceptional ability among their research peers.
2003-2017: Professor McCourt presently holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in plant molecular biology. This Chair is for outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields.
2009: Professor McCourt was part of the team of researchers from Canada, the United States and Spain that identified the Abscisic Acid (ABA) hormone receptor. This discovery was chosen as one of the top ten breakthroughs of that year in all of science by the journal Science.
2012: Professor McCourt was awarded a U of T Inventor of the Year Award. This award, which recognizes groundbreaking inventions that have the potential for global impact, was given for development of innovative genetic technologies for combating drought stress in crop species.
2013: Professor McCourt was awarded the International Plant Growth Substances Association (IPGSA) silver medal for his contributions to the field of plant hormone signalling. The IPGSA was founded in 1937 and awards a silver medal every three years to recognize excellence in research. He is the first Canadian researcher to win this prestigious award.
2015: Professor McCourt, recognized for his development of novel chemical probes for understanding Strigolactone hormone signalling in higher plants, was selected by the editors of Nature Chemical Biology for a collection of published papers over the past decade that reflect the diversity and excitement of chemical biology research.
2015: Professor McCourt's group, along with researchers in Japan, identified the first Strigolactone hormone receptor in parasitic plants, work that was published in two back-to-back issues of Science papers. This discovery was chosen as one of the 2015 signalling breakthroughs of the year by the journal Science Signaling.